Last year’s US Open final was an American dream featuring Serena and Venus Williams. The 2018 Australian Open proved to be an American nightmare on Day 1 as the Top 3 U.S. seeds exited Melbourne, some in ugly fashion.
Serena Williams withdrew from the event due to maternity, but the 2017 finalist Venus was handed a brutal draw that turned deadly when she was upset by the Williams-killer Belinda Bencic 6-3, 7-5 in first-round action. On the return from an injury-plagued 2017, the Swiss now has career wins over both Williams sisters.
“I think the level was great,” Bencic said. “Also she beat me four times before, so I was really happy, took my chance this time. Yeah, obviously just happy to be back playing. It was a very, very long time when I was out. I couldn’t wait to come back, so it means a lot…For the first matches, I think I had a little bit too much respect, played a little bit careful and safe. This time I really tried to come out and hit it big. Also tactically be smart on the court. It’s really tough to play her. You really have to be on the limit of your game. You have to come out with everything you have. I tried to do that today.”
The No. 5-seeded Williams was joined on the sidelines by an uninspired No. 13 seed Sloane Stephens who failed to serve out the match against China’s Shuai Zhnag, losing 2-6, 7-6(2), 6-2, and No. 10-seeded Coco Vandeweghe who lost in a petulant banana fit 7-6(4), 6-2 to Hungarian Timea Babos.
Vandeweghe received two code violations during her loss, the first when she refused to restart play at the end of the first set until she was brought bananas.
“How are they not on court? I mean, c’mon, that’s not my fault,” she argued with the chair umpire. “Why do I have to play under a different set of rules? I don’t have to make myself uncomfortable because [the tournament is] ill prepared. I have needs and it’s not my fault that this court is ill prepared.”
At the end of the second set she received another code violation when she cursed at her opponent, afterwards saying Babos was trying to get “in her face.”
“She always does that (loses her temper),” Babos said afterwards. “A couple of rackets are broken every match, this time it was I believe a time violation, but I’m not sure. The second one I believe was an insult against me. If the umpire heard it then it must have been this.”
Stephens’ win-loss record fell to 0-8 since raising the trophy at the US Open.
“Even though I lost, I’m not too sad,” Stephens said. “Everything is good. Relax, everybody. It will be okay. Don’t worry. We will get back to having fun soon. Just give me a little bit to regroup and we will be okay.”
A total 12 out of 15 American women and men in action lost on Day 1 at the Australian Open.
Other players orchestrating upsets on Day 1 in Melbourne were Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi rolling over No. 24 Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 6-2, the Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk likewise easing past No. 25 Peng Shuai 6-2, 6-2, and Romania’s Irina Camelia-Begu outlasting No. 31 Ekaterina Makarova 3-6, 6-4, 8-6.
World No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki began her campaign to potentially re-take the No. 1 ranking in Melbourne by rolling over last week’s surprise Hobart finalist Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania 6-2, 6-3.
“I never look at the draw, to be honest,” said a relaxed Wozniacki. “So I don’t really know who is up next. I saw a couple of results. But, yeah, I don’t really follow too much, to be honest.”
The Dane was joined in the winner’s circle by fellow Top 10 winners No. 4 Elina Svitolina who beat Serb Ivana Jorovic 6-3, 6-2, and No. 7 Jelena Ostapenko who spanked former Slam winner Francesca Schiavone 6-1, 6-4.
“I really enjoy to play on all centre courts, especially when there is a lot of people watching and supporting me, I really love that feeling,” Ostapenko told reporters. “Of course it’s tough, especially after winning [the French Open] at the age of 20. Everybody wants to beat you. But on the other side, I have nothing to lose. I already won the grand slam. I just enjoy every match and show my best.”
Additional seeded winners were No. 12 Julia Goerges, No. 15 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova who came from a set down to defeat the Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, No. 19 Magdalena Rybarikova, No. 22 Darya Kasatkina, No. 23 Daria Gavrilova, No. 30 Kiki Bertens who came from a set down to defeat American Catherine Bellis 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-2, and No. 32 Anett Kontaveit.
Goerges extended her match winning streak to 15 stretching back to 2017.
“It’s just a number,” the German said. “It’s nice that it’s going, but I’m just focusing from one round to the other and trying to put my performance there and trying to improve with every match I’m playing.”
Unseeded Aussie and former US Open winner Sam Stosur continued her struggles winning in Melbourne, going out first round 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 to former Olympic gold winner Monica Puig.
Highlights of Tuesday’s schedule in Melbourne are world No. 1 Simona Halep opening against Aussie wildcard Destanee Aiava, (8) Carolina Garcia vs. Carina Witthoeft, Maria Sharapova vs. Tatiana Maria, No. 9 Johanna Konta vs. Madison Brengle, Genie Bouchard vs. Oceane Dodin, and No. 27 Petra Kvitova vs. German veteran Andrea Petkovic. Also in action are seeds No. 3 Garbine Muguruza, No. 6 Karolina Pliskova, No. 17 Madison Keys, and No. 21 Angie Kerber.
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