EMMA Raducanu of Great Britain plays a return against France’s Alize Cornet during their 
US Open first-round match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.—AFP
EMMA Raducanu of Great Britain plays a return against France’s Alize Cornet during their
US Open first-round match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.—AFP

NEW YORK: Emma Raducanu’s US Open title defence ended at the first hurdle on Tuesday while Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and twice US Open winner Naomi Osaka were also ousted in the opening round.

British teenager Raducanu made a dream run to the title as a qualifier last year but her return to court at Flushing Meadows was less memorable as she fell 6-3, 6-3 to Frenchwoman Alize Cornet.

“Obviously really disappointing. Really sad to leave here. It’s probably my favourite tournament,” Raducanu said. “In a way I’m happy because it’s a clean slate… The target will be off my back slightly.”

Rybakina became the latest top seed to exit the tournament after suffering a shock 6-4, 6-4 defeat by French qualifier Clara Burel while Osaka, unseeded this year, lost 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 to Australian open finalist Danielle Collins.

Four-time major winner and former world number one Osaka has won just twice on tour since April.

“I tried as hard as I could. I wanted to play without my back being in pain. I only really started serving two days ago,” said Osaka.

World number one Iga Swiatek cruised into the second round after crushing Italy’s Jasmine Paolini 6-3, 6-0, but two-time US Open winner Venus Williams bowed out after losing 6-1 7-6 to Alison van Uytvanck of Belgium.

Swiatek next faces 2017 champion Sloane Stephens, who fought back from a set down to beat Greet Minnen 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, while fourth seed Paula Badosa survived an early scare to beat Lesia Tsurenko 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3.

Also going through to a politically-charged clash were three-time runner-up Victoria Azar­enka of Belarus and Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine.

Kostyuk is a vocal critic of the presence of Russian and Belarusian players on tour and only last week, Azarenka was axed from an exhibition on the eve of the US Open aimed at raising money for Ukraine.

Kostyuk, 20, said she turned down the chance to play in protest at the presence of Azarenka and the 33-year-old Belarusian was swiftly dumped from the event.

Belarus is a close ally of Russia and has allowed Moscow to use its territory to launch attacks into Ukraine during the ongoing war.

Former world number one Karolina Pliskova overcame Magda Linette 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (10-8) in a match where there was little to separate the two players until the final set tiebreak.

American eighth seed Jessica Pegula beat Viktorija Golubic 6-2, 6-2 while twice Grand slam champion Garbine Muguruza also advanced in straight sets beating Clara Tauson 6-3, 7-6 (7-5).

Joining them in the second round was sixth-seeded Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka after her 6-1, 6-3 win over Catherine Harrison.

But Sofia Kenin, the 2020 Australian Open champion, was knocked out in straight sets by Wimbledon quarter-finalist Jule Niemeier who came away with a 7-6 (3-7), 6-4 victory.

NADAL SURVIVES SCARE

In the men’s draw, Rafael Nadal, returning to Flushing Meadows for the first time since winning the 2019 title, overcame an early scare to see off 21-year-old Australian wildcard Rinky Hijikata 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3.

World number three Nadal, who is chasing a 23rd Grand Slam title and third of 2022, arrived at the tournament having played just one match since an abdominal injury forced him to forfeit his Wimbledon semi-final.

“I’m very happy to be here. It’s a long time that I played here. I thought that maybe I’d never be back,” said 36-year-old Nadal, who next faces Fabio Fognini, the Italian who famously defeated him from two sets down in the third round in 2015.

Fognini was the third Italian to play a five-setter on Tuesday, mounting a comeback from two sets down to beat Aslan Karatsev 1-6, 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 6-4.

His compatriot Lorenzo Musetti fought back from 2-5 down in the final set to beat Belgian David Goffin 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (11-9) in a match that lasted 4-1/2 hours, the longest match of the tournament so far.

Italian 11th seed Jannik Sinner’s first-round match lasted over 3-1/2 hours as he outlasted Germany’s Daniel Altmaier 5-7, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1. Third seed Carlos Alcaraz, who became the youngest man to reach the quarter-final in New York a year ago, advanced after his Argentine opponent Sebastian Baez retired when the Spanish teenager was leading 7-5, 7-5, 2-0.

Britain’s Cameron Norrie, the seventh seed, raced past France’s Benoit Paire 6-0, 7-6 (7-1), 6-0 and eighth seed Hubert Hurkacz had no problems dispatching Oscar Otte, who did not have a single break point opportunity in a 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 defeat.

Russian ninth seed Andrey Rublev blew a two-set lead against Laslo Djere and was made to work hard for his 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4 victory.

Argentine 14th seed Diego Schwartzman advanced to the second round after his American opponent Jack Sock retired with an injury while leading 6-3, 7-5, 0-6, 0-1 and Canadian 19th seed Denis Shapovalov earned a hard-fought 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Marc-Andrea Huesler of Switzerland.

Americans John Isner and Brandon Nakashima advanced with straight sets wins over Federico Delbonis and Pavel Kotov, respectively but Sam Querrey, playing in his last tournament before retirement, made a first round exit, after losing 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10-8), 6-3 to Belarusian Ilya Ivashka.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2022

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