WUHAN (China) • US Open champion Sloane Stephens suffered a shock defeat at the hands of China's Wang Qiang in the first round of the Wuhan Open yesterday, hours after fellow Flushing Meadows finalist Madison Keys tumbled out.
Stephens, the 14th seed, lost 2-6, 2-6 in her first WTA event since her surprise victory against Keys in New York. Despite a strong fight by the American in the second set, Wang - spurred on by the home crowd in the 15,000-capacity stadium - proved too strong for the 24-year-old.
"I didn't play a great match. But my opponent played very well," Stephens told a post-match press conference. "I mean, it's difficult. It's the end of the year. Even though I played five tournaments, I feel like I played 25. I'm a little tired."
Keys also crashed out at the first hurdle in the hot and steamy Chinese city, losing to American qualifier Varvara Lepchenko after struggling to overcome a longstanding wrist injury.
The 10th seed fell 2-6, 6-7 (4-7) in what was also her first WTA event since her maiden Grand Slam final.
The world No. 12, called a medical time-out early in the second set and looked close to tears as she examined her left wrist, which has twice needed surgery in the past.
The American had chances to level the match in the second set but Lepchenko saved two set points to hold at 5-5, before taking the tie-break 7-4. "The strength (of my wrist) has been the biggest issue... I've been dealing with it over the summer," the 22-year-old said.
"But we kind of all knew it (would be like this) until we had a solid chunk of time to strengthen it."
Stephens and Keys can still mathematically qualify for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. At press time, they were 12th and 14th respectively in the Porsche Race to Singapore.
The top eight singles players will qualify for the Oct 22-29 event.
"Singapore would be really difficult to make but it's still technically possible so why not," said Keys, who is on 2,212 points - 1,443 behind the eighth-placed Johanna Konta (3,655) of Britain.