Australian Open 2021: Champion Sofia Kenin survives first-round scare, but former champ Victoria Azarenka departs

An anxious Sofia Kenin was in tears before launching her title defence at the Australian Open and again after completing an unconvincing 7-5 6-4 win over local wildcard Maddison Inglis.

Fourth seed Kenin, who claimed her maiden Grand Slam at Melbourne Park last year in a major surprise, found the going tough against the world No.133 Australian on a glorious morning at Rod Laver Arena.

The Russia-born American was broken twice in the first set and slumped to an early 3-1 deficit, before recovering. She later double-faulted on match-point, before closing it out.

Kenin has always worn her heart on her sleeve and is candid about her emotions, saying she needs to get a grip of them, if she hopes to go far in her title defence.

"Yeah, emotions... some tears and stuff," the 22-year-old says of her lead-in to the match. "I felt a little bit (of) pressure.

"Obviously I was nervous... I obviously am tight. I wasn't there 100 percent mentally."

Kenin says that while she gets nervous before all her matches, the anxiety level has cranked up in Melbourne, as she bids to defend her title.

"I have to try to put my emotions aside for a match," she adds. "I have to somehow get better at that if I want to do well here."

Even after thumping down a backhand drive-volley to seal the win on a third match point, Kenin had to stop herself from weeping on court.

"Eyes were a little bit wet during the match," she says. "I try to cool off, put that aside.

"As the match went, luckily it was fine. Towards the end, you could see I got a little bit emotional as well.

"Standing at the net, 'Okay, don't cry'. My eyes were wet, obviously."

She will next play Estonia's Kaia Kanepi, who beat her in three sets in Rome in 2018, their only previous meeting.

Just seeing that Kanepi was winning her first round match against Anastasija Sevastova was enough to tug at Kenin's emotions again.

"After my match, I came off court and I looked that she was winning," she says.

"Maybe [I] kind of broke down a little bit, because obviously I remember I lost to her."

Meanwhile, two-time champion Victoria Azarenka has been dumped out, after a 7-5 6-4 defeat by main draw debutant Jessica Pegula.

Belarusian Azarenka, who won her two Grand Slam titles in Melbourne in 2012 and 2013, started the stronger and looked to be in complete control, the 12th seed racing to a 5-2 lead in the first set.

But things quickly fell apart, as American Pegula, the world No.61, took the next five games to seal the set.

Azarenka's troubles continued in the second set and she took a medical timeout while trailing 4-2, after appearing to have trouble breathing.

She returned to hold serve and followed that up with a break to draw level at 4-4, but Pegula broke straight back, before serving out the match, sealing victory with an ace.

And American teenager Coco Gauff said she felt right at home among her spectator contemporaries on the John Cain Arena court o as she knocked out Jil Teichmann 6-3 6-2 to glide into the second round.

Coco Gauff
Coco Gauff Photo credit: Getty

The recently renamed showcourt at Melbourne Park is sometimes called the "People's Court" as cheaper ticket prices make it accessible to a younger demographic, which can also make for a rowdier atmosphere.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, crowd numbers were again low on Tuesday but there were still enough youthful fans on hand to give the American a rousing cheer after a routine victory over her Swiss rival.

"I think this is my favourite court to play on," Gauff, the youngest player in the main draw, said on court.

"I was told that this arena has a lot of younger people. I'm 16, so it's good to see some people in the crowd that's around my age, they tend to be a little bit louder so that's why I like it."

The teenager will next play Elina Svitolina, and the Ukrainian fifth seed will be well aware that Gauff stunned Venus Williams, Sorana Cirstea and Naomi Osaka in her first Australian Open campaign last year.

"I'm going to go out there and have fun and compete," Gauff said.

"She's a great player and I know it's going to be a tough match, but I'm just going to embrace the opportunity and try to play well under the pressure."

Crowds at Melbourne Park have been restricted to 30,000 each day this year because of biosecurity protocols, but that capacity looks unlikely to be reached over the first two days.

The three-week delay to the tournament also means that many younger fans who might have wanted to cheer on Gauff are now back at school after their January vacations.

"I know the stands aren't as full because of the situation that is going on in the world but I'm happy that you guys came out to watch me play - so thanks!" Gauff added.

Other women's results on Tuesday

World No.1 Ash Barty handed a 'double bagel' to Montenegro's Danka Kovinic, beating her 6-0 6-0 on Rod Laver Arena.

Slovenian qualifier Kaja Juvan advanced to the second round after world number 15 Johanna Konta retired hurt in the second set, with the Briton leading 6-4 0-2.

Estonian 21st seed Anett Kontaveit sealed a 7-5 6-2 win over Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

Qualifier Mayar Sherif became the first Egyptian woman to win a main draw match at a Grand Slam with a 7-5 7-5 win over French qualifier Chloe Paquet.

Croatian 16th seed Petra Martic was knocked out 7-5 3-6 6-4 by Serbian qualifier Olga Danilovic, ranked 183, who was making her Grand Slam main draw debut.

Qualifier Mayar Sherif became the first Egyptian woman to win a main draw match at a Grand Slam with a 7-5 7-5 win over French qualifier Chloe Paquet.

Czech sixth seed and 2019 semi-finalist Karolina Pliskova made short work of Italy's Jasmine Paolini, winning 6-0 6-2 in just 47 minutes.

World number 52 Kristina Mladenovic overcame a mid-match wobble to beat Greek 20th seed Maria Sakkari 6-2 0-6 6-3.

Elina Svitolina squeezed past Czech Marie Bouzkova 6-3 7-6(5). 

Swiss 11th seed Belinda Bencic battled past American Lauren Davis 6-3 4-6 6-1. 

Spaniard Paula Badosa, the only confirmed case of COVID-19 among the playing group at the Australian Open, was beaten in the first round 6-7(4) 7-6(4) 7-5 by Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova.

Garbine Muguruza's bid for a first Australian Open title began with a 6-4 6-0 thrashing of Russian lucky loser Margarita Gasparyan in the opening match at Margaret Court