‘16 champ Kerber exits; Federer wins
NEW YORK (AP) — The question was rather simple after Angelique Kerber became only the second defending U.S. Open champion in the professional era to lose in the first round.
The surprisingly lopsided 6-3, 6-1 loss to 45th-ranked Naomi Osaka of Japan under the closed roof in Arthur Ashe Stadium at a rainy Flushing Meadows on Tuesday was former No. 1 Kerber’s latest in a long list of disappointing performances in 2017, so she was asked what she thinks went wrong this season.
She sighed, shrugged her shoulders and began to answer: “I don’t know.”
Moments later, her eyes darting around the room, she added, “This year is a completely different year.”
Talk about an understatement. In 2016, Kerber broke through to the top of tennis in a spectacular way. A player with only one previous Grand Slam semifinal appearance reached the first three major title matches of her career, winning two of them: She stunned Serena Williams in the Australian Open final, lost to Williams in the Wimbledon final, and then beat Karolina Pliskova in the U.S. Open final to rise to the top of the WTA rankings for the first time.
Her follow-up has been quite a flop. Kerber, a 29-year-old German, hasn’t won any title of any sort this season. She is only 25-18 overall, 0-9 against opponents ranked in the top 20, and Tuesday’s loss assured her of falling out of the top 10 for the first time since October 2015. At Grand Slam tournaments she is 6-4, including another first-round loss in May at the French Open, where she became that tournament’s first No. 1 seed to lose so early.
“I know that I’m strong and I know that I will come back stronger, for sure. I know that I will not (be) giving up,” said Kerber, the first defending champion to lose in the U.S. Open’s first round since Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2005.
Showers showed up before noon Tuesday and led to the postponements of dozens of matches. The only court used in the afternoon and evening was Ashe, thanks to the retractable cover constructed ahead of last year’s tournament.
The only men’s matches completed were there, and Roger Federer overcame a slow start and then a late lapse to edge 19-yearold American Frances Tiafoe 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 in a compelling first-rounder at night.
Federer’s footwork and strokes were off in the first set, and he repeatedly gave Tiafoe points via miscues. Federer then appeared to take control by grabbing eight of nine games en route to taking a 2-1 lead in sets. But Tiafoe rediscovered his own powerful shots to force a fifth set. Federer went up 3-1, then got broken while serving for the match at 5-3. But he broke right back, finally converting his third match point.
Federer earned his 79th career victory at the U.S. Open, equaling Andre Agassi for second-most behind Jimmy Connors’ 98.
Federer’s possible semifinal foe and chief rival for the title, No. 1 Rafael Nadal, overcame a first-set hiccup of his own before overpowering Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-2.