‘16 champ Ker­ber ex­its; Fed­erer wins

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - SPORTS -

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.

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