Tennis: Osaka knocks defending champion Kerber out of US Open

Naomi Osaka of Japan reacts after winning against Angelique Kerber.
Naomi Osaka of Japan reacts after winning against Angelique Kerber.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - Japanese teenager Naomi Osaka sent defending champion Angelique Kerber crashing out of the US Open first round on Tuesday (Aug 29), bringing a rare bright spot to a rain-lashed day at Flushing Meadows.

As players ran for cover off the outside courts, Osaka’s big-hitting game and love of the big occasion thrived under the roof of the Arthur Ashe Stadium court.

The world number 46, born in Japan to a Haitian father and Japanese mother, won 6-3, 6-1 as sixth seed Kerber became the first US Open women’s defending champion to lose in the first round since Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2005.

Osaka, who surrendered a 5-1 third set lead on the same court in losing to Madison Keys 12 months ago, fired 22 winners as Kerber went tumbling out of the world’s top 10 as well as the tournament.

“At 4-1, I was hoping I don’t do what I did last year,” said the 19-year-old Osaka, who admitted suffering a brief flashback to her tearful loss to Keys.

“So that helped me focus and concentrate, which I needed as Angelique gets everything back.”

Osaka will face either Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson or Denisa Allertova of the Czech Republic for a place in the last 32.

“I just want to play good. I did that today and so I want to carry that into the next match,” added the Japanese teenager, who secured her first career win over a top-10 player.

Kerber is the third top seed to go out in the first round after number two Simona Halep and seventh-seeded Johanna Konta lost on Monday.

World number one Karolina Pliskova, bidding to back up her lofty status with a maiden first Grand Slam title, also made a winning start.

Czech 25-year-old Pliskova, the runner-up in 2016, eased past Poland’s Magda Linette 6-2, 6-1 on the back of eight aces and 29 winners.

“I felt a little bit nervous walking on this court, especially after last year and the memories I have here,” said Pliskova, whose progression to the second round was only briefly halted by the roof on Arthur Ashe stadium being closed.

NADAL, FEDERER SET TO START

With torrential rain drenching the outside courts – allowing just three women’s matches to finish by mid-afternoon – Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at least had the comfort of knowing that they would begin under the roof.

World number one Nadal, the 2010 and 2013 champion, starts his campaign for a 16th major against Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, the world number 85.

The signs are that it should be a quick afternoon’s work for the 31-year-old Spaniard, who dropped just four games in the pair’s only other meeting at the 2014 French Open.

Nadal has been seeded to face old rival Federer in the semi-finals, a potentially epic confrontation which would also represent their first ever meeting at the tournament in their 13-year rivalry.

Nadal, this year’s French Open champion, is 12-0 in first round meetings in New York; Federer is 16-0.

The 36-year-old Federer, whose capture of the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles in 2017 has taken his Slam count up to 19, is bidding for a record sixth crown in New York.

The Swiss, who missed the 2016 US Open to rest a knee injury, takes on US teenager Frances Tiafoe under the lights.

Federer defeated the world number 70 in straight sets in Miami this year but Tiafoe, the son of a Sierra Leone immigrant, illustrated his growing reputation by seeing off world number six Alexander Zverev in Cincinnati.

Crowd pleaser Nick Kyrgios, fresh from beating Nadal in Cincinnati, faces fellow Australian John Millman.

Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 champion in New York, starts against Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen.

Austrian sixth seed Dominic Thiem, who has never got past the fourth round, faces Australian wildcard Alex de Minaur.

Also in action are 2004 champion Kuznetsova, who meets Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, and French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko, up against Lara Arruabarrena of Spain.