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Pegula, Gauff signal intent as Australian Open begins

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Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff fired the first warning shots at the Australian Open on Monday with brilliant back-to-back victories as Rafael Nadal prepares to return to the stage of one of his greatest Grand Slam triumphs.

Fitted third seed Pegula swept past 161st-seeded Romanian Jacqueline Christian at the Margaret Court Arena 6-0, 6-1 in a 59-minute romp that signaled her intentions.

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American Coco Gauff, seeded seventh, was just as explosive in her second round races, beating Czech Katerina Siniakova 6-1, 6-4 at the nearby Rod Laver Arena.

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Gauff went to the first Grand Slam of the year on high after winning her third WTA title at the Auckland Classic this month, while Pegula was bolstered by upsetting world No. 1 Iga Swiatek at the United Cup.

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“I am honored that the tournament selected me and Katerina to open at Rod Laver Arena,” said Gauff.

Gauff now faces a devastating second-round bout with former US Open champion Emma Raducanou, who beat Germany’s Tamara Korpacz 6-3, 6-2, just 10 days after the British star left the Auckland tournament in tears over ankle injury.

But two seeds fell at the first hurdle: Czech Marie Buzkova, seeded 25th, and Amanda Anisimova, seeded American, 28th.

Top seed Swiatek starts her first title campaign at Melbourne Park later and says she is ready for a “tense” matchup against world No. 69 German Julie Neumeier, who reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last year.

The pair’s only previous meeting came in the round of 16 of the 2022 US Open, where Swiatek lost the first set before going 2-6, 6-4, 6-0 to win her third Grand Slam title.

– Nadal’s tough test-

Reigning men’s champion Nadal will take on center court in the afternoon against Brit starter Jack Draper, 21, who reached the semi-finals in Adelaide last week.

But the top seed, who extended that record to 22 Roland Garros titles, struggled for form and admitted that Draper would be an ordeal.

“It was probably one of the toughest first rounds… young, strong, very, very fast rising in the rankings, playing well,” said Draper’s Nadal, world No. 40.

Before bowing, Greek No. 6 seed Maria Sakkari will face China’s Yuan Yue, world No. 117.

Daniil Medvedev has been runner-up at the Australian Open for the past two years, losing first to Djokovic in 2021 and then to Nadal 12 months ago.

The seventh-seeded Russian will end the first night session on Rod Laver against American Marcus Chiron, who took 60th place.

Also in the game on Monday are men’s third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who plays France’s Quentin Halis, who placed 64th, and last year’s women’s runner-up Danielle Collins, who starts against Russia’s Anna Kalinska.

Victoria Azarenka, the Belarusian winner of 2012 and 2013, will also play Sofia Kenin, whose only Grand Slam title was won in Australia in 2020.

Novak Djokovic, who was detained and deported ahead of last year’s tournament after refusing to be vaccinated against Covid-19, begins his campaign for a record 10th Australian Open title on Tuesday.



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