DOHA • Angelique Kerber was one of at least seven seeds who crashed out of the Qatar Open on Tuesday, in the German's first singles tournament since winning her first Grand Slam title last month.
The Australian Open champion lost her second-round match - she received a first-round bye - in straight sets 5-7, 1-6 to China's Zheng Saisai, who is ranked 70 places below the world No. 2.
On a disastrous day in Doha for the top players, Kerber was joined by the second seed Simona Halep, who lost to Elena Vesnina. Also out was defending champion Lucie Safarova, who fell in straight sets to Turkey's Cagla Buyukakcay.
Adding to the carnage, sixth seed Belinda Bencic, No. 12 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 14 seed Jelena Jankovic and No. 16 seed Sara Errani were also beaten.
However, it was Kerber's defeat which proved the most shocking. In a lacklustre and timid performance, the German lost her serve six times, hit 38 unforced errors - Zheng hit only eight - and was beaten in just 78 minutes. The second set took just 28 minutes as her game collapsed.
"The feeling is amazing here today," Zheng said. "Kerber was amazing at the Australian Open and a great champion. For sure it wasn't her best tennis today, but I'm happy I won the match."
Kerber, who has not played any singles tournaments since beating Serena Williams in Melbourne on Jan 30, grew increasingly exasperated with her form on a blustery night in Doha and at one point could be heard telling her coach that she was tired. Afterwards, she said she did not know if her performance was down to a lack of match fitness or not being able to respond to the new expections of being a Grand Slam champion.
"I was feeling this morning also not good when I was practising," she said.
"I don't know how many mistakes I did today... I think it was more like I was not feeling my game and not finding my rhythm."
Zheng, who had never beaten a player in the top five before Tuesday, continued her fine form by taking out Canada's Eugenie Bouchard 7-6 (7-1), 6-1 in the third round yesterday.