Thursday 22 February 2018

Venus Williams crashes out of the Australian Open in the first round

Venus Williams of the U.S. yells in frustration during her first round loss to Ekaterina Makarova of Russia at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne
Venus Williams of the U.S. yells in frustration during her first round loss to Ekaterina Makarova of Russia at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne

Eleanor Crooks

Ekaterina Makarova completed a notable double in knocking Venus Williams out of the Australian Open in the first round.

Two years ago the Russian produced a stunning win over Serena Williams in the fourth round in Melbourne and on Monday she fought back impressively to beat Venus 2-6 6-4 6-4.

The American is, of course, no longer the threat she was, with age and ill health taking their toll, but this was definitely one that got away given she led 3-0 in the decider.

The 33-year-old said: "Obviously losing any match is never any fun, especially in a major. So I definitely would have wanted a different result.

"I think she played really well, and I my level was a little bit too up and down."

Venus will play women's doubles with Serena and once again insisted she has no plans to hang up her racquet.

"The last 12 months I have had issues, but this year I definitely am looking forward to having a good run and feeling well," she said, adding: "I love Australia. I'd love to come back."

At the other end of the age scale, attention was on two 16-year-olds, Belinda Bencic and Ana Konjuh, who have both been tipped for the top.

They experienced differing fortunes, with Croatian Konjuh's lack of experience showing in a 6-2 6-0 defeat by fourth seed Li Na.

But her fellow qualifier Bencic secured her first victory in the main draw of a grand slam by beating Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-4 4-6 6-3.

It was a real generational battle, with Date-Krumm an astonishing 27 years older than her opponent.

Swiss Bencic is coached by Melanie Molitor, the mother of Martina Hingis, and Hingis was in the stands to see the teenager triumph.

Bencic said: "She gave me some advice and I tried to do it. I was a little bit nervous in the beginning but then I just tried to keep the ball in the court. It was special."

Konjuh won the junior title at Melbourne Park last year and, despite the scoreline, Li backed her opponent to rise to the top.

The Chinesewoman tried to find clips of Konjuh on YouTube so she would know what to expect, and she said: "She has a huge serve and very good baseline play.

"I was feeling that if she had more experience, I think she'll be a very good player."

It was a convincing start for Li, who lost to Victoria Azarenka in the final last year and next meets Bencic.

Seventh seed Sara Errani was the first major casualty of the tournament, the Italian going down 6-3 6-2 to Germany's Julia Goerges.

In truth, it was not a huge surprise. Errani also lost in the first round last year and has not been in good form so far this season.

Home hope Sam Stosur fought back from 1-4 down in the second set to defeat Klara Zakopalova for the third time in the first round in Melbourne.

The 6-3 6-4 victory was nevertheless a notable result for the Australian 17th seed, who lost to Czech Zakopalova in Hobart on Friday.

Ana Ivanovic also made it through, the 14th seed defeating Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens, who had her blood pressure taken on court after struggling with the heat, 6-4 6-4.

There was no happy return to grand slam tennis, though, for two-time grand slam finalist Vera Zvonareva, who was beaten 6-2 6-2 by Australian wild card Casey Dellacqua.

The Russian, who made the finals at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2010, played her first grand-slam match since Wimbledon in 2012 following 17 months out through illness and shoulder surgery.

There were also wins for teenagers Eugenie Bouchard, Madison Keys and Annika Beck along with seeds Angelique Kerber, Daniela Hantuchova and Kirsten Flipkens.

In the men's draw, David Ferrer, Stanislas Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych all progressed smoothly to the second round but it was the return of an old stager that added glitz to day one of the Australian Open.

Stefan Edberg was back on court at Melbourne Park as he took part in his first training session with Roger Federer.

The Swede, a six-time grand slam champion, has agreed to work with Federer for 10 weeks this season alongside the world number six's regular coach Severin Luthi.

Edberg will lock horns once again with his 1980s rivals Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl, now coaching Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray respectively.

Federer begins his campaign on Tuesday against Australian wild card James Duckworth in the second match on Rod Laver Arena.

Third seed Ferrer, who reached the semi-finals at Melbourne Park last year, defeated Colombian Alejandro Gonzalez 6-3 6-4 6-4 in his first-round match.

There were 13 breaks of serve and Ferrer had to come from behind in both the second and third sets.

The Spaniard also has a new coach having split from Javier Piles, his mentor of 15 years, and hired Jose Altur.

He said of the Piles decision: "We both broke it off because we were a lot of years together, and we decided to stop. Nothing else. Just that. Nothing personal.

"Javier is very special for me. He's a good friend. I travelled with Jose sometimes so I know him and he knows me."

Eighth seed Wawrinka did not even have to finish his match after Kazakh opponent Andrey Golubev retired with the Swiss leading 6-4 4-1.

Wawrinka was voted Swiss sports personality of the year at the weekend after his great form in 2013, which began with a titanic five-set loss to Novak Djokovic in the fourth round at Melbourne Park.

He said: "I have more confidence in myself. I know that I can play and go well in the grand slams. I already did.

"I started the year well with winning the first title (in Chennai), so that's giving me a lot of confidence. I'm feeling physically strong and mentally there."

Seventh seed Berdych also won in straight sets, beating another Kazakh, Alexandr Nedovyesov, 6-3 6-4 6-3.

The Czech's eye-catching blue and white striped shirt was the main talking point afterwards, and he said: "I think it's very nice, very interesting. All the others look quite the same. So this is something new."

German Tommy Haas was the first seed to go out, a shoulder injury forcing the 35-year-old to withdraw while trailing Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 7-5 5-2.

There were wins for ninth seed Richard Gasquet, 23rd seed Ernests Gulbis and 19th seed Kevin Anderson, who fought back from two sets down against 20-year-old Jiri Vesely.

Meanwhile, Australian Matthew Ebden avoided the heartbreak of losing a five-set match for the third straight year, rallying to beat Frenchman Nicolas Mahut 6-3 7-5 4-6 0-6 6-3.

Online Editors

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport