US Open 2017

Osaka claims her biggest scalp

Naomi Osaka of Japan hitting a backhand during her shock opening-round win over Angelique Kerber at the US Open in New York. The 19-year-old upset the odds to knock out the German title holder and sixth seed 6-3, 6-1 for her first victory over a top-
Naomi Osaka of Japan hitting a backhand during her shock opening-round win over Angelique Kerber at the US Open in New York. The 19-year-old upset the odds to knock out the German title holder and sixth seed 6-3, 6-1 for her first victory over a top-10 player.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

Teen stuns defending champion Kerber in first round, Federer needs five sets to see off Tiafoe

NEW YORK • In a tennis season dotted with impressive achievements from daring youth, Japanese teen Naomi Osaka submitted her entry into the club under a closed roof on Tuesday at the US Open.

The 19-year-old Florida resident with a Japanese mother and Haitian father upset defending champion Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-1 in an hour and five minutes without much fuss.

The match was her first career win over a top-10 player - Kerber is ranked No. 6 in the world and was seeded sixth in New York - but not her first experience in a clash this big.

Osaka lost to seven-time Major singles champion Venus Williams in the third round of Wimbledon this year, an experience that helped calm her nerves before taking on two-time Grand Slam winner Kerber.

"I tried to tell myself I'm probably not going to get as nervous against Kerber as I did against Venus," said world No. 45 Osaka. "It helped me through. But when I stepped on the court and I heard all the people and I saw how big the stadium was, I got a little bit freaked out, but I tried to hold it in."

She controlled her emotions and shellacked Kerber, whose rocky Grand Slam season ended on an unforced forehand error.

The 29-year-old German did not make it past the fourth round in a Grand Slam this year, after capturing both the Australian and US Open titles last year.

  • SELECTED RESULTS

  • Men's 1st rd Rafael Nadal (Esp) bt Dusan Lajovic (Srb) 7-6(8-6) 6-2 6-2, Roger Federer (Sui) bt Francis Tiafoe (USA) 4-6 6-2 6-1 1-6 6-4.

  • Women's 1st rd Karolina Pliskova (Cze) bt Magda Linette (Pol) 6-2 6-1, Barbora Strycova (Cze) bt Misaki Doi (Jpn) 6-1 6-3, Jelena Ostapenko (Lat) bt Lara Arruabarrena (Esp) 6-2 1-6 6-1, Yanina Wickmayer (Bel) bt Lesya Tsurenko (Ukr) 6-3 6-1.

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Her victory in New York last September catapulted her to the No. 1 ranking. She was the first No. 1 player the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) had in three years at the time, and just the second German woman to hold the top ranking, after legend Steffi Graf.

Now, Kerber will drop out of the top 10 for the first time since Oct 5, 2015.

She was left trying to explain why, after completing the massive effort of reaching the top, it is so difficult to stay there.

"I think because it's a new situation," she said. "If you are there (at the top), you actually don't know what to expect, and then it's just the process.

NOT EASY TO REMAIN TOP OF THE PILE

If you are there (at the top), you actually don't know what to expect... You have to schedule your day... and, yeah, it's for sure tougher to stay on top.

ANGELIQUE KERBER, world No. 6, struggling to explain her fall from grace.

"You have to get used to everything. You have to schedule your day, plan completely differently and, yeah, it's for sure tougher to stay on top."

With Stan Wawrinka not defending his men's singles title because of a season-ending knee injury, it is the first time that neither holder has reached the second round of the US Open since 2003.

That year, defending champions Serena Williams and Pete Sampras missed the tournament.

Later on Tuesday, worries about Roger Federer's back injury surfaced again after the Swiss was stretched to five sets by 70th-ranked Frances Tiafoe, 19.

The 19-time Grand Slam champion won the first-round match 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4, but said afterwards that concerns about his back - which he tweaked while losing the Montreal final to Alexander Zverev three weeks ago - were responsible for what he admitted was a slow start.

"I was worried in the beginning about my back issue from a couple weeks ago but I loosened up," said the 36-year-old, calling his back "extremely well" and adding, "it's only going to get better from here".

"To get through a five-set match, you've got to be healthy. I believe this is going to give me great confidence in my game and my body.

"It was cool to be part of that match. I'm really excited I won."

Tiafoe, son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, was disappointed he could not stay atop the third seed after breaking in the opening game.

"He won by the skin of his teeth," said the American.

"I felt like when I was playing well, I was controlling most of the rallies. When I was hitting the ball big, he wasn't really doing much except staying steady with me."

Federer has not suffered a first-round exit in a Grand Slam since the 2003 French Open and has never lost an opener on the New York hard courts. But Tiafoe tested him.

"It was more than a test," said Federer, who finished with 17 aces, 41 winners and 56 unforced errors. "It was exciting. It's why I came to New York as well, to go through these emotions."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2017, with the headline 'Osaka claims her biggest scalp'. Print Edition | Subscribe