Last year’s U.S. Open Champion Angelique Kerber will not defend her title in Flushing Meadows in 2017, as the German was routed in straight sets by Japan’s Naomi Osaka under the roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday. The 19-year-old Osaka advanced to the second round with a 6-3, 6-1 win over the sixth-seeded Kerber whose 2016 struggles continued.
“It was not my day,” Kerber said afterwards. “Completely not my day today.”
The opening set was on serve until 4-3, when Osaka capitalized on some errors from Kerber. A double-fault set up the teenager’s only break point and a backhand error in the ensuing point from Kerber gave Osaka the break. She would hold serve in the ensuing game to take the opening set.
She carried her momentum into the second set by breaking Kerber in the first game. After breaking again for a 4-1 lead the wind had left Kerber’s sails. Osaka would close the match out with a break of serve in the seventh game, pushing through in just one hour and four minutes.
Kerber becomes the first defending U.S. Open champion to lose in the first round the following year since Svetlana Kuznetsova was knocked off in round one in 2005.
“I’m still the same player and the same person, so I think it’s just—yeah, I think it’s just the matches and how I played last year from the beginning and how I’m struggling this year,” Kerber said of the contrast between her 2016 and 2017 seasons. “But at the end, I know that I’m strong and I know that I will come back stronger, for sure. I know that I will not give up like this.”
As for Osaka, she notched the biggest win of her career on Tuesday, playing clean tennis which resulted in 22 winners to 17 unforced errors and breaking on four of her six chances while saving all four break points she faced.
“When it was 4-1 and I walked over, I was telling myself I hope what happened last year doesn’t happen again,” Osaka said, referring to her heartbreaking loss to Madison Keys on the very same court in last year’s third round. “That really made me focus more.”
Osaka moves on to play the winner of Rebecca Peterson of Sweden and Czech Republic’s Denisa Allertova, whose match was postponed due to rain on Tuesday.
Last year’s runner-up and current world number one Karolina Pliskova had no trouble in her opener, as she began play on Ashe on Tuesday with a 6-2, 6-1 triumph over Poland’s Magda Linette.
The Czech hit 28 winners and converted on five break points while saving nine of the 10 she faced to advance in one hour and 18 minutes.
“Obviously before every first-round match, I’m a little bit nervous, but especially in a Grand Slam and especially to defend so many points here from the final last year. It was a little bit difficult, but I think I made it pretty okay today.
The game could be better. I think the serve could be better, but overall, I think it was solid.”
Pliskova will play the winner of American Nicole Gibbs and Paraguay’s Veronica Cepede Royg.
The rain washed out the majority of the action on Tuesday but before the bad weather started, 23rd seed Barbora Strycova, Yanina Wickmayer and Sorana Cirstea advanced.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.