Sunday 18 March 2018

Kerber exits as Sharapova sets standard on return to Grand Slam

Naomi Osaka of Japan shakes hands after defeating Angelique Kerber of Germany. Photo: Getty
Naomi Osaka of Japan shakes hands after defeating Angelique Kerber of Germany. Photo: Getty

Eleanor Crooks

Defending champion Angelique Kerber of Germany was knocked out of the US Open in the first round when she lost 6-3 6-1 to Japanese teenager Naomi Osaka yesterday.

The last defending women's champion to lose in the first round at Flushing Meadows was Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2005.

The 19-year-old Osaka, the 2016 WTA newcomer of the year, was rarely troubled by the sixth-seeded Kerber, who has not won a title since she prevailed here last year.

Osaka broke for 5-3 in the opening set and never looked back to claim her first victory against a top-10 player.

Earlier, an emotional Maria Sharapova collapsed to the court in tears after knocking out Simona Halep in a show-stopping return to Grand Slam tennis.

The first-round US Open blockbuster certainly lived up to the hype under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium, with Sharapova ultimately overpowering Halep to win 6-4 4-6 6-3 in her first Grand Slam appearance since serving a 15-month doping ban.

The 2006 champion had looked set to win in straight sets when she led 4-1 in the second only to let it slip but recovered to clinch a dramatic victory after two hours and 44 minutes.


Sharapova, not known for public displays of emotion, dropped to her knees and then sat and sobbed on her chair, her face a picture of disbelief.

The 30-year-old said: "I just thought this was another day, another opportunity, another match but this was so much more and I didn't want to think about it. You sometimes wonder why you put in all the work and this is exactly why."

So what had she learned from a match that felt more like a final than an opening-night encounter?

"That behind this black dress with Swarovski crystals this girl has a lot of grit and she is not going anywhere," said Sharapova.

Snubbed by the French Open and then injured for Wimbledon, where she would have had to fight her way through qualifying, Sharapova was controversially given a wild card in New York.

If there were dissenters among the crowd, they kept their thoughts to themselves as the Russian strode onto court in her sparkly dress with cheers ringing in her ears.

She had beaten Halep in all six of their previous meetings but this time came in as the firm underdog having played just four tournaments since the end of her suspension in April.

Injuries have been her nemesis and she had managed only one match in more than three months.

Irish Independent

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