When Maria Kirilenko and Peng Shuai walked to their seats after the opening set on Hisense Arena Thursday, world No.1 Victoria Azarenka had already been off court for 18 minutes with a straight sets win up her sleeve.
It’s those long-winded, fight-for-every-point matches that are never too welcomed under the punishing 35-degree Melbourne sun but that’s exactly what the two competitors got, Kirilenko eventually prevailing 7-5 6-2.
With the win, the 14th seed advances to the third round of the Australian Open for the second straight year.
"First of all I’m just happy that I won today and I’m happy with the way I played," Kirilenko said post-match.
"I was pretty lucky to win the first set actually to be honest but in the second set I started to serve better and I'm really happy with the way I could change and turn the game around."
Peng – with her unconventional two-handed game off both sides – used the sidelines well early but Kirilenko was up to the task with her swift agility.
At 2-1 Peng pushed Kirilenko deep and wide to the forehand and charged to the net. A subsequent volley to the Russian’s backhand saw Kirilienko scramble frantically for the ball, who then nailed a superb passing shot down the line to level the scores.
The 14th seed had her chances in the fifth game but couldn’t capitalise after squandering three consecutive break points. Peng returned the favour in the next game, however, failing to convert on her two break opportunities as the set was locked at 3-3 after 40 minutes of play.
A costly Peng double fault followed by a lucky Kirilenko net cord at deuce, 5-5, finally saw the Russian get the break she needed, helping her close out the first set 7-5 after 73 grueling minutes.
A quick double break to start the second set – including one to love in the third game – saw the Russian race to a 3-0 lead and the dogfight that previously ensued was beginning to transform into a whitewash.
A dominant serving display from the world No.15 at 4-1 saw her hold to love – slamming serves down the T to which Peng had simply no answer – and another strong service game at 5-2 helped the Russian seal the match 6-2 in the second.
Kirilenko will play the winner of Yanina Wickmayer and Jana Cepelova in the third round.