Kerber suffers straight-sets loss to Kasatkina, defending champ Kuznetsova also out
Angelique Kerber’s build-up for next week’s Australian Open suffered a setback when the world number one was beaten 7-6(5), 6-2 by Russian teenager Daria Kasatkina in the second round of the Sydney International yesterday.
An error-prone Kerber struggled to reproduce the form that led her to a first grand slam triumph at Melbourne Park last year and came unstuck against the 19-year-old Kasatkina.
“The first matches of the year are always tough and I still don’t feel my rhythm. I made too many mistakes,” Kerber, who also lost in the quarter-finals in Brisbane last week, said of her 41 unforced errors.
“So it was not so easy, but I will try to forget the match as soon as I can. It’s the second tournament of the year. We still have a (long way) to go, so I will not (make) a big (deal) of that match.”
Kasatkina kept her nerve when it mattered most and fought off three break points in the sixth game of the second set while leading 3-2 with a break.
From there she did not have to look back.
“It’s difficult to explain really. I beat the number one in the world and it doesn’t happen every day,” Kasatkina, ranked 26 in the world, said in a courtside interview.
“I think I will get some confidence,” she said referring to the year’s first grand slam which starts on Monday in Melbourne.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova earlier won an all-Russian battle against Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Pavlyuchenkova beat world number nine and defending champion Kuznetsova 7-5, 6-3 to set up a quarter-final clash against Canadian Eugenie Bouchard who caused another upset by defeating third seed Dominika Cibulkova.
Ninth seed Italian Robert Vinci also fell to Czech Barbora Strycova 6-2, 6-3 but former world number one Caroline Wozniacki bucked the trend with a 6-0, 7-5 win over Kazakh Yulia Putintseva. Polish number two seed Agnieszka Radwanska also overcame American Christina Mchale 7-6(1), 6-1.
Pavlyuchenkova came into the match having lost five of the last six meetings against Kuznetsova and twice fell back in the opening set.
The 31-year-old double grand slam winner was serving for the set at 5-4 before Pavlyuchenkova reeled off the last three games to bag the set.
“I’m really happy, especially because she’s not only defending champion but my fellow (countrywoman) and she’s top 10 and she’s had a really incredible year last year,” Pavlyuchenkova said.
Next up for the Russian will be former Wimbledon finalist Bouchard who completed her fourth consecutive hard-court win against world number six Cibulkova with a 6-4, 6-3 victory.
It will be the first WTA quarter-final appearance for the Canadian in 10 months since Kuala Lumpur, where she lost in the final of the Malaysian Open.
Sharapova to make comeback after doping ban in Stuttgart
Five-times grand slam champion Maria Sharapova will return to competitive action following a 15-month doping ban at the Stuttgart Grand Prix in April, the Russian said yesterday.
The Florida-based Sharapova was originally banned for two years after testing positive for meldonium at last year’s Australian Open.
The former world number one, one of the highest paid athletes in the world in the past decade, admitted she had used meldonium for years and was not aware it had been banned since the start of 2016.
Her suspension was later cut to 15 months on appeal.
“I could not be happier to have my first match back on tour at one of my favourite tournaments,” Russian Sharapova, who won the indoor clay event three years running from 2012, said on the tournament website. “I can’t wait to see all my great fans and to be back doing what I love.”
She will return to action in time to contest the season’s second grand slam at Roland Garros. The French Open begins on May 22. “I’m really happy for Maria that she’s back after a long break. Particularly pleasing for me is that it’s going to be our audience that gets to watch her comeback live,” said tournament director Markus Guenthardt.
“(It)...is certain to be one of the sporting and emotional highlights of our anniversary tournament.”
Sharapova, who will turn 30 on April 19, had earned $29.7mn in 2015 as the world’s highest paid female athlete.
She had called the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) original ruling “unfairly harsh” as an independent tribunal had found that she had not intentionally violated anti-doping rules.
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