Huge US Open upset is a boon for Barty
Australian tennis star Ashleigh Barty has survived a scare to safely progress to the second round of the US Open in New York.
The world No. 2 had to pull out all stops before battling past dogged Kazakh Zarina Diyas 1-6 6-3 6-2 on Tuesday morning (AEST).
Barty used her trusty trademark serve to drag herself out of a big hole and set up a date on Wednesday with unseeded American Lauren Davis.
"I just had to start with my serve," the French Open champion said after finishing with eight aces and landing 83 per cent of her first deliveries.
"I really wasn't giving myself enough chances on serve. I don't know what the percentage was in the first set ... but it wasn't good.
"(I had to) go back to the basics, start again and try to figure it out."
Her path to a potential quarterfinal against Serena Williams became more straightforward as 2016 US Open champion Angelique Kerber suffered an early exit at the hands of France's Kristina Mladenovic.
Kerber - who loomed as Barty's potential fourth round opponent - fell 7-5 0-6 6-4 to Mladenovic, who had lost four of her five previous meetings with Kerber.
Mladenovic saved 10 of 12 break points in the first and third sets combined against the No. 14 seed, helping her secure the win despite getting bageled in the second set. She'll face fellow Frenchwoman Fiona Ferro in the second round after Ferro defeated Australia's Daria Gavrilova 6-3 6-4.
Opening tournament proceedings on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Barty made a terrible start, falling behind 5-0 in 20 minutes after struggling to find her rhythm. Her backhand was particularly off, a glut of errors from that wing gifting Diyas the first break of the match in the second game.
A Barty double-fault and wild forehand handed Diyas the double break before the second seed finally got on the scoreboard.
But Barty's 19th unforced error, another overcooked forehand, left Australia's big title hope down a set inside half an hour.
Furious with herself, Barty emerged a different player in the second set, bludgeoning a succession of winners to work her way back into the contest. It took her eight games, though, to break down Diyas.
But once she did Barty sealed the second set with a signature ace down the middle to get back on level terms.
She gained two more breaks in the third set to advance after a tough one-hour, 42-minute workout.
"Zarina was able to put it in difficult positions even off my slice," Barty said. "It was about trying to do it regularly and put her under pressure."
Despite the shaky start, the 23-year-old said it was a thrill to return to Arthur Ashe Stadium following her breakthrough doubles triumph last year with CoCo Vandeweghe.
"It was a bit bizarre. We walked out here on practice the other day and some good memories came floating back," Barty said.
"We are really pleased with the way we were able to solve this riddle today, figure it out and progress to the second round."
While Barty is through, fellow Australian Samantha Stosur's 15th US Open campaign lasted barely an hour.
Stosur lost 6-1 6-3 to Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova in 63 minutes. Champion in 2011 after thumping Serena Williams in the final, 35-year-old Stosur needed a wildcard in 2019 after falling to No. 132 in the world.
The other Australian woman in action on day one, qualifying lucky loser Priscilla Hon, also went down, losing 7-6 6-4 to Russian Margarita Gasparyan.