AFP New York
Angelique Kerber needed just over 30 minutes to get her pursuit of a first US Open off to a winning start yesterday as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal prepared to make their bow.
Second seed and Australian Open champion Kerber was leading Polona Hercog 6-0, 1-0 when the Slovenian called it quits, clearly wilting in the crushing 33-degree heat, having won just nine points. “It’s not the way I wanted to win, but I am playing well and feeling good,” said the German star.
Hercog, ranked a distant 120, needed a lengthy medical timeout after five games of the opening set with a doctor and trainer called.
Kerber, who next faces either Alize Cornet of France or Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia, insisted she will not be distracted by possibly dethroning Serena Williams as world number one by the end of the tournament.
“If the day comes, I will be very happy but for the moment, I am going step by step,” said the 28-year-old, a semi-finalist at the US Open in 2011.
Three seeded players lost early on the opening day with French 13th seed Richard Gasquet, a semi-finalist three years ago, the biggest casualty. He went down to 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 to British world number 84 Kyle Edmund.
Croatian seventh seed Marin Cilic, the 2014 champion, eased past Brazil’s Rogerio Dutra Silva 6-4, 7-5, 6-1.
Double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova beat Jelena Ostapenko 7-5, 6-3 while former world number one and two-time US Open runner-up Caroline Wozniacki downed US qualifier Taylor Townsend 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The Flushing Meadows complex was showcasing its gleaming $600 mn refit which includes a retractable roof over Ashe and a brand new Grandstand court. However, the old Grandstand court, due to be demolished after the tournament, was pressed into action after Court 10 was deemed unplayable.
Later in the day, defending champion Djokovic and fellow two-time winner Nadal start their campaigns but with both men under injury clouds.
World number one Djokovic, the 2011 and 2015 champion, admits he is “not 100 percent” after suffering a wrist injury on the eve of the Olympic Games where he was a shock first-round loser.
Nadal is also battling the effects of a left wrist problem which forced a mid-tournament withdrawal from the French Open and sidelined him until the Olympics where he was a gold medal winner in the men’s doubles.
The injury concerns, combined with the absence for the first time since 1999 of five-time winner Roger Federer, have put 2012 champion Andy Murray in the position of favourite.
Djokovic starts his bid for a third major of 2016, and 13th of his career, against Polish giant Jerzy Janowicz, who was a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2013. A serious knee injury has limited Janowicz to just six matches all year and seen his world ranking collapse to 228.
Nadal, the 2010 and 2013 champion in New York, tackles Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan. The Spaniard has a 4-0 career record over world number 107 Istomin, including a win over the Russian-born player at the 2010 US Open. Nadal closes the daytime session on Ashe while Djokovic starts the evening entertainment.
In between, the tournament will stage its opening ceremony with British singer-songwriter Phil Collins making his first concert appearance in six years.
Play on the cavernous Ashe stadium got underway with 2015 women’s runner-up Roberta Vinci, the Italian seventh seed, beating Germany’s Anna-Lena Friedsam 6-2, 6-4.
Vinci stunned Serena Williams in the semi-finals in 2015 before losing the championship match to Italian compatriot Flavia Pennetta who retired in the immediate aftermath of her first and only Grand Slam win.
Women’s top seed Williams and 2012 champion Murray will open their respective campaigns today. Williams is chasing a record seventh US Open and will equal Steffi Graf’s record of 186 successive weeks at world number one.
Earlier, the year’s final grand slam began with an upset as 13th-seeded Frenchman Richard was upended by Britain’s world number 84 Edmund. Gasquet, who has reached the last 16 at Flushing Meadows four times in his career, was outplayed throughout and his US Open stay lasted just one hour, 41 minutes.
The 21-year-old Edmund, who helped Britain win the Davis Cup last year, crunched 10 aces and 40 winners in all en route to the biggest victory of his career. Edmund will play Lukas Lacko of Slovakia or American wildcard Ernesto Escobedo in the second round.
Former champion Cilic, a popular pick to make a deep run at Flushing Meadows, opened his campaign with a straight sets victory over Dutra Silva. The Croatian seventh seed, fresh off a win over world number two Andy Murray in the Cincinnati final, came from a break down in the first set and was pushed in the second before easing past the world number 108.
“It’s my second home, I feel great here,” said Cilic, who won the only grand slam title of his career here two years ago. “My best memories come from here in 2014. Winning Cincinnati just shows me I am in good form but it’s an extremely tough tournament, over two weeks. There are a lot of contenders for the title so I will take it step by step.”
Cilic, who banged down 12 aces, next plays either Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine or Gastao Elias of Portugal.
Earlier, Cagla Buyukakcay was the first player to punch a second-round ticket as the US Open tennis championships got underway, with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Irina Falconi. Turkey’s Buyukakcay, ranked 66th in the world, needed just 59 minutes to get past America’s Falconi and set up a second-round meeting with either two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, the 14th seed, or Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko.
Results (Round I)
Men: Guido Pella (ARG) bt Bjorn Fratangelo (USA) 6-3, 6-4, 6-4; Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) bt 28-Martin Klizan (SVK) 6-2, 6-1, 6-1; Kyle Edmund (GBR) bt 13-Richard Gasquet (FRA) 6-2, 6-2, 6-3; 7-Marin Cilic (CRO) bt Rogério Dutra Silva (BRA) 6-4, 7-5, 6-1
Women: Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) bt Taylor Townsend (USA) 4-6, 6-3, 6-4; Andrea Petkovic (GER) bt Kristina Kucova (SVK) 7-6 (7/3), 6-3; 24-Belinda Bencic (SUI) bt Samantha Crawford (USA) 6-7 (6/8), 6-3, 6-4; 7-Roberta Vinci (ITA) bt Anna-Lena Friedsam (GER) 6-2, 6-4; Carina Witthoeft (GER) bt 30-Misaki Doi (JPN) 6-4, 6-1; Cagla Buyukakcay (TUR) bt Irina Falconi (USA) 6-2, 6-1; 14-Petra Kvitova (CZE) bt Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) 7-5, 6-3; 2-Angelique Kerber (GER) bt Polona Hercog (SLO) 6-0, 1-0 (retired)
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