US Open 2020: Coco Gauff ousted in first round; Karolina Pliskova, Naomi Osaka progress
Coco Gauff's hopes of launching another deep run at a Grand Slam ended in the first round at the US Open, with the US teenager succumbing in three sets to Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova.
New York: Top seed Karolina Pliskova shrugged off the eerily quiet atmosphere to reach the second round of the US Open as the women's draw followed the form book on Monday.
World number three Pliskova, elevated to top seed in the absence of world number one Ashleigh Barty and second-ranked Simona Halep, needed just over an hour to dispose of Ukraine's Anghelina Kalinina.
The Czech ace overcame an early wobble, when Kalinina fought back from 1-4 down to level at 4-4 in the first set, to clinch a 6-4, 6-0 victory in 1hr 3min.
The 28-year-old, a finalist at Flushing Meadows in 2016, will now face France's Caroline Garcia in the second round.
Pliskova, who made a disappointing early exit at last week's ATP/WTA Western & Southern Open tune-up event in New York, said she was adjusting to playing before empty stands at the Open, where spectators are barred because of COVID-19 protocols.
"I felt better than in my previous match, last week," Pliskova said after her tie on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court.
"I think the center court is better place to play no matter -- I mean, it's still without people, but I just felt somehow a little better.
"And I had a lot of practices on this court, so I felt just quite used to it."
Pliskova's sixth-seeded compatriot Petra Kvitova also advanced safely, downing Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3, 6-2.
The 30-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, who has never gone beyond the quarter-finals in New York, said she was adjusting to the empty stands, as well as tournament regulations which prevent players from sightseeing in the city.
"It's been different, for sure," Kvitova said. "I'm glad that I had a couple of matches before to kind of get used to these new things.
"I really had to get used to being in the bubble. It's something totally different, which I was normally doing -- going out for a coffee, sitting in Central Park.
"Suddenly this is not the option."
Elsewhere on Monday, Germany's 17th seed Angelique Kerber, the 2016 US Open champion, booked her second-round berth with a 6-4, 6-4 defeat of Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic.
The 32-year-old admitted the fan-free atmosphere had required a mental adjustment.
"It's a little bit weird to play without fans and without the support and the atmosphere on the center courts," Kerber said.
"It's a little bit like the feeling when you play practice matches against the players. But of course you know it's like a serious game.
"It is more, for me today, it was more also mentally to prepare for the match that I know we play without fans and all the situation. It was not so easy at the beginning, but then, yeah, you get used to it a little bit."
Coco Gauff exits
Coco Gauff's hopes of launching another deep run at a Grand Slam ended in the first round at the US Open on Monday, with the US teenager succumbing in three sets to Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova.
Gauff, who created a sensation at Wimbledon last year when she became the youngest player in the tournament's history to qualify for the main draw before reaching the fourth round, was beaten 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.
The 16-year-old former junior world number one from Delray Beach had battled back to level the match against the 31st-seeded Sevastova after dropping the first set.
But after squaring the match by taking the final three games of the second set to win it 7-5, Gauff was soon scrambling to save the match in the third set.
Although Gauff saved three match points, Sevastova eventually closed out the win, converting her fourth match point.
It was a disappointing exit for Gauff, who backed up her fairytale Wimbledon campaign last year by reaching the third round at the US Open before another decent showing at the Australian Open in January, where she exited in the fourth round.
Gauff, a fan favourite at previous Grand Slam appearances, said afterwards she did not think the absence of spectators in New York had hampered her performance.
"I think I compete just as hard with fans or not," she said. "I could have played better today. Just going to get back to work and get ready for the French Open."
However the teenager acknowledged that limited playing opportunities in 2020 due to a tennis calendar upended by COVID-19 , had impacted her development.
"The main part that hurt was just getting matches under my belt, getting experience," Gauff said when asked to assess the impact of the coronavirus disruption.
"That's what I need on tour. I'm playing against people older than me who have been in more situations, difficult situations, than I have. I think the biggest thing is I just need experience.
"Right now my plan is just to play as many tournaments as I can, to get matches under my belt. I'm still in doubles here, so I'll be here hopefully till the end. That's the goal."
Gauff's long-term ambitions also include winning qualification to play at next year's Tokyo Olympics.
"Definitely a goal of mine to qualify," Gauff said. "Right now I'm just focused on the match ahead, just focusing on the moment now. But obviously that's a goal, to qualify for the Olympics next year."
Osaka wears mask in memory of Breonna Taylor in win
Before and after her first-round victory at the US Open, Naomi Osaka wore a mask bearing the name of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was fatally shot by police.
It's just one of seven face coverings, each in honour of a different person, that Osaka brought to Flushing Meadows — the same number of wins it takes to claim a Grand Slam trophy. The world's highest-earning female athlete hopes she can get the chance to raise awareness about racial injustice by using each mask during her stay in New York.
"It's quite sad that seven masks isn't enough for the amount of names, so hopefully I'll get to the finals so you can see all of them," said Osaka, the champion at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open.
"I'm aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn't know Breonna Taylor's story. Maybe they'll, like, Google it or something," Osaka said. "For me, (it's about) just spreading awareness. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they'll become in it."
On the court, she overcame some uneven play late Monday night to beat 81st-ranked Misaki Doi 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 in an all-Japanese matchup in an empty Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The No. 4-seeded Osaka's movement was an issue at times; she is coming off a left hamstring injury that forced her to withdraw from the final of the Western & Southern Open on Saturday.
"Physically I feel like I could be better. But I can't complain because I won the match," Osaka said. "During the match, it slowly got a little bit worse. Yeah, I just feel like there's some recovery time that I'm lacking that I wish I could get back. For the most part, I'm managing."
It was during the Western & Southern Open last week that Osaka took a public stand by saying she would refuse to play her semifinal, joining athletes in various other sports who walked out to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a police officer in Wisconsin.
Osaka's move prompted tournament organisers to halt action entirely for a day. When play resumed, Osaka agreed to compete, after all, because the day off for the Western & Southern Open brought additional attention to the issue.
Osaka walked out on court for her match Monday night with a black mask and white lettering with the name of Taylor, a 26-year-old who was fatally shot when police officers burst into her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment using a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation in March.
Osaka put the mask back on for her post-match interview.
"A lot of people ask me if I feel more stressed out ever since I started speaking out more. To be honest, not really," Osaka said. "At this point, like, if you don't like me, it is what it is. You know what I mean?"
Against Doi, Osaka wound up with 38 unforced errors, 13 more than her winners total. But after a forehand into the net gave the second set to Doi, Osaka quickly went ahead in the third by breaking in the opening game.
Doi never has been past the fourth round at any Grand Slam tournament. She is now 1-8 for her career at the U.S. Open and 0-18 against opponents ranked in the top 10.
Osaka is now 34-1 in Grand Slam matches when taking the first set; the only loss came against Simona Halep at the 2016 French Open.
Next up for her is a match against Camila Giorgi of Italy.
"She's very unpredictable for me," Osaka said, "so I guess I just have to be on my toes."
(With inputs from AP)
Italian Open: Perfect 10 for flawless Rafael Nadal, Iga Swiatek rewinds to Paris — talking points from Rome
Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek, the defending French Open champions, won the titles in Rome to mark an anchor for Roland Garros that gets underway on 30 May.
The 19-year-old reigning French Open champion took just 45 minutes to dispatch the 2019 Rome winner two weeks before she opens her title defence in Roland Garros.
Swiatek has now won three titles, following on from Roland Garros with Adelaide in January, and now Rome, and will move into the top 10 for the first time on Monday.