MELBOURNE, Australia — Sloane Stephens advanced at the Australian Open at the expense of her former doubles partner Timea Babos in a second-round match the women’s tour billed as a battle of the so-called “frenemies.”
Fifth-seeded Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, dominated the Rod Laver Arena opener 6-3, 6-1 on Wednesday but Babos kept her working by saving 18 of the 23 break points she faced.
This is the first time since 2014 that Stephens has put back-to-back wins together at Melbourne Park. She reached the fourth round in 2014, a year after making a run to the semifinals.
She puts the improvement down to feeling more relaxed.
“Yeah, considering I haven’t won a match here in I don’t know how long,” she said. “I’m kind of conquering all the places where I’ve been terrible. So Asia, I’ve won a few matches there, and here.
“I know haven’t done well here the last few years .... (so) putting the emphasis on trying to start the year on a good foot.”
Stephens and Babos combined to win three junior Grand Slam doubles titles — the French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open — in 2010.
Stephens couldn’t remember exactly how the combination was formed in the juniors, but said she knew what to expect from Babos.
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“She obviously is an incredible doubles player, last year No. 1 in the world,” she said. “I see her every week. We’re good.”
Stephens will next play No. 31-seeded Petra Martic, who beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-4, 7-5.
In other early women’s matches Wednesday, Ash Barty had seven aces and dropped serve only once in a 6-2, 6-3 win over Wang Yafan to continue her bid to end a title drought for Australian women at the championship that dates to 1978.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova eliminated ninth-seeded Kiki Bertens 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 to reach the third round of a major for the first time since her quarterfinal run here in 2017, and Aliaksandra Sasnovich beat 20th-seeded Anett Kontaveit 6-3, 6-3.
Nineteenth-seeded Caroline Garcia advanced 6-3, 6-3 over Zoe Hives.
Advancing on the men’s side were 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych, No. 14-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 19 Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Defending champions Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki were in action later Wednesday, as well the No. 2-ranked players Rafael Nadal and Angelique Kerber.