MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Ash Barty showed a good host can lift spirits at the most subdued of parties as she thumped Lesia Tsurenko 6-0 6-1 in a blistering start at the Australian Open on Monday to reach the second round.
With the deportation of men's champion Novak Djokovic leaving a massive hole at Melbourne Park and a major COVID-19 outbreak gripping the city, Barty's twilight clinic at Rod Laver Arena gave the tournament a much-needed boost.
Djokovic was heading back to his native Serbia on Monday, but Barty remains as the Grand Slam's main drawcard, carrying Australia's hopes of ending a 44-year-old wait for a home champion.
"It feels like it's an eternity since I've been back on this beautiful court," the world number one said.
"It's certainly nice to be back on home soil now and playing as well as I did tonight, it was a lot of fun out here."
Qualifier Tsurenko might have cared to disagree.
Though a seasoned tour professional and former U.S. Open quarter-finalist, the 32-year-old Ukrainian had no answers as Barty stormed out of the blocks, wrapping up the first set in 24 minutes.
Barty squandered two match points that would have handed Tsurenko the dreaded double-bagel and let another two slide as she served for the match, but the Australian finally sealed it with a booming serve down the 'T'.
The Wimbledon champion has been in rollicking form this season, capturing the Adelaide International in the leadup for the perfect preparation for her home Slam.
Her serve has improved from handy to virtually impregnable, and she saved two break points against Tsurenko to remain unbroken in four successive matches.
"I'm not one for stats at the best of times," said Barty.
"But I think obviously the last kind of five or six matches I felt like I found a really good rhythm on my service games.
"I've been able to... serve my way out of some tricky spots.
"Not falling too far behind in service games has been a massive part of my week in Adelaide and again tonight."
Former semi-finalist Barty will continue her bid for a maiden title at Melbourne Park against Italian qualifier Lucia Bronzetti.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Christian Radnedge)