Ash Barty’s unofficial French Open title defence has kicked off as she faces American World No. 70 Bernarda Pera in the first round.
Barty won her first and as yet only grand slam title of her career at Roland Garros in 2019 before she skipped the 2020 edition due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
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While Barty stayed at home during the 2020 season, Polish star Iga Swiatek took out the title, becoming the first Polish player to win a grand slam singles title.
It’s why Swiatek is the favourite at Roland Garros in 2021, but Barty is in irresistible form.
Barty won the Stuttgart Open and made the final of the Madrid Open before retiring with an arm injury from the Italian Open despite being ahead of Coco Gauff.
It was to ensure she was in top shape for the major, with the French Open followed quickly by Wimbledon later this month.
Round 1 Vs Bernarda Pera – as it happened
Barty may have had the best part of two weeks off but she has continued where she left off, holding Pera to a 10 minute game for the American to hold her serve.
Barty then flexed to made it 1-1 in the first with a quick service game to love in less than a minute, before breaking Pera to go up 2-1.
The left hander was proving difficult to shake as he tricky angle across court won the break straight back.
But a pair of double faults handed the ascendency back to Barty for a 3-2 lead and restoring the break.
Barty put her foot down, opening up a 5-2 lead with the second break.
Earlier the Aussie came into the Philippe-Chatrier Stadium wearing a mask with emus on it, following on from her popular orang-utan mask she wore during the lead up tournaments.
Barty’s hot form in 2021
Barty entered the tournament as the World No. 1 and has spent 72 weeks in the position.
But the French Open is the tournament where she is defending the most points after the ranking freeze last year.
The Croatian-born Pera is a left-hander who has reached the second round in Paris in 2018 and 2020.
A solid clay court performer, she went through qualifying to make the main draw in Madrid and Rome this spring.
In the Italian capital, it took former French Open winner Garbine Muguruza to stop her in three sets in the second round.
Barty vacated her Roland Garros title after skipping much of the 2020 season citing health and travel risks.
But she has won three titles this year and reached the Madrid final, although an arm injury at the Italian Open forced her out of the quarter-finals and cast doubt over her fitness in Paris.
“I think coming back to the site here at Roland Garros is obviously pretty special, pretty cool,” said Barty.
— with AFP