Tags: Abbie Myers, Ashleigh Barty, Ashling Sumner, Azra Hadzic, Belinda Woolcock, Brooke Rischbieth, December Showdown, December Showdown 2010, Ebony Panoho, Isabella Holland, Kassandra Dunser, Mia Vriens, Monika Wejnert, Nina Catovic, Optus 18s, Sophie Letcher, Stefani Stojic, Storm Sanders, Viktorija Rajicic
There was sun, searing forehands and school groups aplenty on the first day of the Optus 18s Australian Girls Singles Championships, with most of the seeds winning their first match in the round-robin format.
Much of the drama occurred in the Green Group, where fifth seed Ashling Sumner was forced to retire in her match against 14-year-old Ashleigh Barty, after cramping in the third set.
Following two tight sets in the Melbourne midday sun, Sumner began to cramp in her legs and arms, handing victory to her younger opponent 4-6 6-3 4-1 (ret.)
Visibly upset and in pain, she called for a trainer 4-1 down in the final set but was forced to retire soon after and taken from the court in a wheelchair.
In an even-sided contest, Barty was impressive in victory against her older opponent.
Her topspin forehands, reliable smash and sound volleys proved her an all-court player and displayed why she was the winner of the 2010 Female Junior Athlete of the Year title at the Newcombe Medal, Australian Tennis Awards last week.
Next up for Barty will be third seed and defending champion Monika Wejnert, who overpowered Abbie Myers in straight sets 6-4 6-4.
Wejnert dominated from the bassline, asserting her control on the match with her powerful forehands.
Things look good for Wejnert, who is in fantastic form after dropping only five games in her three straight-set wins throughout the Optus 18s qualifying tournament.
In the Blue Group, top seed Sophie Letcher overcame a mid-game slump to defeat Mia Vriens 6-1 3-6 6-0.
After racing away with the first set, Letcher lost concentration in the second, appearing to have a calf injury and disputing umpiring calls.
She recovered her game to completely destroy Vriens in the final set, winning to love and justifying her top seeding.
Letcher is part of a strong Queensland contingent, with Wejnert, Barty and Sumner also hailing from the Sunshine State.
With the exception of Sumner, they seemed right at home in Melbourne’s increasingly tropical climate and look poised to take the title up north yet again.
Letcher’s biggest threat in her group appears to be Anna Kournikova lookalike Nina Catovic, who was too good for Ebony Panaho.
Panaho’s unforced errors aided an easy 6-3 6-1 win for the eighth seed.
A large group of Primary School students were in the stand for the Yellow Group match between Viktorija Rajicic and the impressively named Storm Sanders.
Rajicic, the number four seed, found the going tough against Sanders, however her power eventually wore down her opponent and she ran away with the final set.
The children were clearly enjoying the chance to witness Australia’s potential next big tennis star and added to the atmosphere of the day.
Out on Court 12, an extremely tight match was played out between Azra Hadzic (seeded sixth) and Brooke Rischbieth.
Both sets went to tie-breakers, with Hadzic coming out on top 7-6(4) 7-6(4).
Results were more one-sided in the Magenta group, with second-seed Isabella Holland disposing of Stefani Stojic, 6-1 6-2, whilst seventh-seed Kassandra Dunser defeated Belinda Woolcock 6-0 7-5.
Luckily all games were completed before Melbourne’s typically unpredictable weather patterns ensured the hot morning ended in a deluge of rain.
The next round of matches will commence at 9:00 am at Melbourne Park and entry is free.