INDIAN WELLS: World number one Iga Swiatek launched her bid for a rare Indian Wells title repeat with a convincing 6-0, 6-1 second-round victory over 56th-ranked American Claire Liu on Saturday.
Neither Liu nor the breezy conditions on Stadium Court troubled Swiatek, who is seeking to become just the second woman — after Martina Navratilova in 1990-91 — to successfully defend her title at the prestigious combined WTA and ATP Masters 1000 hard court tournament.
Swiatek roared through the first set, winning 25 of 32 points.
She didn´t have things quite so much her own way in the second. She never faced a break point, but Liu did manage to save a match point as she finally held serve in the penultimate game.
The crowd roared when Liu — facing a top-ranked player for the first time — slipped a forehand passing shot under Swiatek´s guard on game point.
It brought a relieved smile to the American´s face, but Swiatek closed it out in the next game after 65 minutes.
"For sure Claire used that moment when I didn´t play as aggressive that I should be, but I´m pretty happy that I was able to close it out pretty fast," said Swiatek, the reigning French Open and US Open champion who was surprised in the round of 16 at the Australian Open in January.
Since then, the 21-year-old from Warsaw has successfully defended her title in Doha and reached the final in Dubai.
She can expect a tougher challenge when she faces 2019 Indian Wells and US Open winner Bianca Andreescu, who defeated American Peyton Stearns 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Defending men´s champion Taylor Fritz, who toppled Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal in last year´s final, had to work harder to get through his second-round opener, a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over 41st-ranked Ben Shelton.
"He has nothing to lose, so I did expect him to come out with a very high level," Fritz said.
"I just had to regroup, find a way to problem-solve. I´m happy to get through it," added the Californian, whose title at Delray Beach this year saw him become the first US man in the top five in the world rankings since Andy Roddick in 2009.
Fritz is seeded fourth in a field led by world number two Carlos Alcaraz, who was scheduled to open his campaign against Australian qualifier Thanasi Kokkinaki on Saturday night.
The 19-year-old Spaniard, whose US Open triumph last year saw him become the youngest-ever world number one, missed the Australian Open as a string of injuries sidelined him for four months.
He returned to win the title in Buenos Aires before falling in the final at Rio de Janeiro, where he was hindered by a hamstring strain that prompted him to pull out of the ATP tournament in Acapulco.
Seventh-seeded Dane Holger Rune and eighth-seeded Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime advanced.
Rune beat American Mackenzie McDonald 7-5, 6-3 while Auger-Aliassime beat Spain´s Pedro Martinez 7-6 (7/5), 6-4.
Former world number one Andy Murray, grinding his way back after hip replacement surgery in 2019, defeated lucky loser Radu Albot 6-4, 6-3 -- the Briton´s first straight-sets win in a year that has seen him pull off a string of unlikely marathon victories that included a five-set epic lasting five hours and 45 minutes in the second round of the Australian Open.
Murray booked a third-round clash with Jack Draper, who won an all-British battle with 24th seed Daniel Evans 6-4, 6-2.
Women´s fourth seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia made a winning return after being sidelined in the wake of a minor knee operation, beating Poland´s Magdalena Frech 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Fifth-seeded Caroline Garcia overcame Hungarian Dalma Galfi 6-1, 6-7 (4/7), 6-4 and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, runner-up at the Australian Open in January, rallied from 4-1 down in the second set to beat former Aussie Open winner Sofia Kenin 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (7/5).