Former world number one Angelique Kerber thrashed Japan’s Naomi Osaka 6-3, 6-4 at the Pan Pacific Open women’s tennis tournament yesterday to avenge a humiliating loss at the US Open.
Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic suffered an epic Tokyo meltdown, meanwhile, as she was pulverised by China’s Wang Qiang, who inflicted the dreaded “double bagel” on the eighth seed to win 6-0, 6-0 and reach the second round.
Kerber, seeded seventh, crashed to a shock 6-3, 6-1 first-round defeat by Osaka in New York last month as defending champion. But a repeat never seemed likely yesterday as the German quickly took control.
Kerber, who has slipped back to 14th in the world since winning last year’s Australian and US Open titles, ripped forehands past her teenage opponent seemingly at will in the first set. Osaka’s game unravelled completely in the second, giving Kerber a welcome opportunity to work her way back to form after a poor run of results and to seal victory in an hour and 23 minutes.
“I was trying to come out, focus on every single point and make it better than last time,” said Kerber. “Naomi is a tough opponent and a great talent. For sure she will have great success in the future.”
The 19-year-old Osaka, born of a Haitian father and a Japanese mother, went on to reach the third round of the US Open after stunning Kerber. But the world number 44 almost appeared to be tanking at times at the venue for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, such was her lack of gusto. She committed 38 unforced errors — including a wild forehand on match point — in a performance she will want to forget in a hurry.
Elsewhere, Japanese wildcard Kurumi Nara beat Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva 2-6, 6-4, 6-2. “It gives me confidence that I was able to turn it around,” said Nara. “Hopefully I can take that spirit into the next match.”
Two-time champion Agnieszka Radwanska, seeded sixth, pulled out of the tournament with a virus, according to organisers. Wimbledon champion and new women’s world number one Garbine Muguruza heads a strong field in Tokyo featuring several top 10 players including Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Wozniacki and Johanna Konta.
Cirstea, Begu lead Romanian charge in Seoul
No. 4 seed Sorana Cirstea emerged victorious over Misa Eguchi 6-1, 6-3, while fellow Romanian and No. seed Irina-Camelia Begu recovered from a set down to dispatch Thai qualifier Varatchaya Wongteanchai 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 to reach the second round of the Korea Open.
Cirstea and Begu are two of four Romanian women currently in the Top 100 - with Mihaela Buzarnescu and Ana Bogdan not too far behind. Begu sees the team as one comprised of strong-willed individuals.
“Everybody asks us,” she said after the match. “There’s a lot of players. I wouldn’t say we have a tennis school that brought us to the top; it’s all on ourselves. Our families were behind us, so were our sponsors. Everyone was practising, doing their own schedules. I can’t really say why so many of us are at the top!” Begu will next face Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia, who also recovered from a set down to Ukrainian wildcard Katarina Zavatska, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.
Earlier in the day, Cirstea enjoyed a much more straightforward encounter with Eguchi, winning 80% of points behind her first serve and converting five of six break points to ease past the Japanese star in 61 minutes. “It’s my second year here,” she said in her post-match press conference.
“I actually really like this tournament, so I don’t know why I haven’t played here more! I’m happy with how I played today. I was aggressive from the beginning to the end, and I served well. I think it was a good match for a first round.”
Cirstea will next play either local wildcard Jang Su Jeong or American Nicole Gibbs, who had then-WTA World No.1 Karolina Pliskova on the ropes in the second round of the US Open. Her projected semi-final opponent is top seed Jelena Ostapenko, whom she played in Flushing Meadows, and with whom she’s opted to play doubles in Seoul.
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