MELBOURNE: US Open champion Sloane Stephens was first to go, followed quickly by last year’s Australian Open runner-up, Venus Williams.
CoCo Vandeweghe went out next as things really started to go crazy for the US women, who eventually lost nine out of 10 first-round matches on a bleak opening day of the Australian Open.
Four months after American women filled all four semi-final spots at the US Open for the first time in 36 years three of them are out of contention at the next Grand Slam.
Monday’s major letdown was compounded when eighth-seeded Jack Sock and 16th seed John Isner joined the procession of US first-round losers.
In her first match at Rod Laver Arena since a vintage run in 2017 ended in a championship loss to sister Serena, Venus lost her opener to Belinda Bencic 6-3, 7-5 to ensure the title won’t stay in the family.
Serena hasn’t played a Grand Slam tournament since winning her 23rd major in Australia last year because of her pregnancy and the birth of her first child.
Fifth-seeded Venus was considered a serious contender in her 77th major to break a Grand Slam title drought dating back to 2008.
Bencic, who had never taken a set off Venus in four previous matches and had lost to Serena in the first round last year, had other ideas.
“I think I had a little bit too much respect, played a little bit careful and safe,” Bencic said of her four previous losses to Venus. “This time I really tried to come out and hit it big.”
Bencic saved five break points in the eighth game before a rain delay caused an almost half-hour suspension of play as the roof was closed on Rod Laver Arena. She returned on a roll, winning the next six points to clinch the first set, and then dominated the second.
Venus had 26 unforced errors and 22 winners, and said she didn’t get the luck of the draw by having to play somebody who has been ranked as high as seventh.
“I don’t think I played a bad match. She just played above and beyond,” she said. “I just have to give her credit for that.”
The 20-year-old Bencic, who was born a couple of months after the last time there was no Williams in the second round at the Australian Open (1997), hit 32 winners, had 12 unforced errors and converted five of 11 break-point chances.
She credited playing with Roger Federer at the Hopman Cup where they teamed up to win for Switzerland with helping her recent improvement. Having Federer’s parents supporting her in the crowd also helped.
Stephens was the first American to falter, losing 2-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 to 34th-ranked Zhang Shuai to extend her losing streak since the US Open to eight matches.
“Tennis is definitely a roller coaster,” said the 13th-seeded Stephens, who was broken while serving for the match in the second set. “But I have learned to just not panic. It will be OK.”
It wasn’t OK for the 10th-seeded Vandeweghe, a semi-finalist in Melbourne and at the US Open last year, who was feeling sick and frustrated in a 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 loss to Timea Babos.
She yelled an obscenity late in the second set, and then got a time violation for waiting too long for a banana to be brought to the court between sets, earning a point penalty.
“I was just trying to wait for what I asked for to come and the chair umpire deemed that it wasn’t a good enough reason,” she said.
CiCi Bellis, Sofia Kenin who lost to 12th seed Julia Goerges, now on a 15-match winning streak Alison Riske, Taylor Townsend and Jennifer Brady all lost before Nicole Gibbs beat Viktoriya Tomova 6-1, 6-1 to end the streak of eight losses for the US women.
Irina Falconi lost 6-1, 6-1 to 23rd seed Daria Gavrilova in the night match, making it one for nine.
“Yes we were talking about it in the locker room and some of them were ribbing me that I had to carry the flag for us,” Gibbs said. “It was a tough day, and this is a tough sport. This isn’t an indication of anything except we have a lot of depth and we had a bad day.”
Sock, the highest ranked of the American men, lost 6-1, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-3 to Yuichi Sugita, while Isner lost to Australian journeyman Matt Ebden and qualifier Kevin King lost to 15th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Ryan Harrison beat Dudi Sela in a sometimes heated five-setter in front of a partisan crowd and qualifier Mackenzie McDonald also bucked the trend for the Americans.
Not everyone found the going tough on a mild opening day in Melbourne.
Top seed Rafa Nadal and world number three Grigor Dimitrov progressed to the second round with easy victories, as did second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki and fourth seed Elina Svitolina on the women’s side.
World number one Nadal cruised to a 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 win over Dominican Republic’s Victor Estrella Burgos while Dimitrov beat Austrian Dennis Novak 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 but there were early exits from Croatian Borna Coric and South Africa’s Kevin Anderson.
Despite the upsets, the competition remains tough with Jelena Ostapenko victorious in her first round match along with top men’s players Marin Cilic, Denis Shapovalov and Nick Kyrgios.
Monday’s results (prefix number denotes seeding):
First round: 1-Rafael Nadal (Spain) bt Victor Estrella Burgos (Dominican Republic) 6-1, 6-1, 6-1; Leonardo Mayer (Argentina) bt Nicolas Jarry (Chile) 6-2, 7-6 (7-1), 6-3; John Millman (Australia) bt Borna Coric (Croatia) 7-5 6-4 6-1; 28-Damir Dzumhur (Bosnia and Herzegovina) bt Paolo Lorenzi (Italy) 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 6-4; 24-Diego Schwartzman (Argentina) bt Dusan Lajovic (Serbia) 2-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 11-9; Casper Ruud (Norway) bt Quentin Halys (France) 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5, 11-9; Alexandr Dolgopolov (Ukraine) bt Andreas Haider-Maurer (Austria) 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-4; Matthew Ebden (Australia) bt 16-John Isner (US) 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3; 10-Pablo Carreno Busta (Spain) bt Jason Kubler (Australia) 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1; Gilles Simon (France) bt Marius Copil (Romania) 7-5, 6-4, 6-3; Malek Jaziri (Tunisia) bt Salvatore Caruso (Italy) 6-7 (2-7), 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3; 23-Gilles Muller (Luxembourg) bt Federico Delbonis (Argentina) 7-5, 6-4, 6-3; 31-Pablo Cuevas (Uruguay) bt Mikhail Youzhny (Russia) 7-6 (9-7), 6-3, 7-5; Ryan Harrison (US) bt Dudi Sela (Israel) 6-3, 5-7, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2; Joao Sousa (Portugal) bt Dustin Brown (Germany) 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (4-7), 6-1; 6-Marin Cilic (Croatia) bt Vasek Pospisil (Canada) 6-2, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5); 3-Grigor Dimitrov (Bulgaria) bt Dennis Novak (Austria) 6-3, 6-2, 6-1; Mackenzie McDonald (US) bt Elias Ymer (Sweden) 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1; Marcos Baghdatis (Cyprus) bt Yuki Bhambri (India) 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-3; 30-Andrey Rublev (Russia) bt David Ferrer (Spain) 7-5, 6-7 (6-8), 6-2, 6-7 (6-8), 6-2; 17-Nick Kyrgios (Australia) bt Rogerio Dutra Silva (Brazil) 6-1, 6-2, 6-4; Viktor Troicki (Serbia) bt Alex Bolt (Australia) 6-7 (2-7), 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4; Denis Shapovalov (Canada) bt Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greece) 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5); 15-Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France) bt Kevin King (US) 6-4. 6-4. 6-1; Kyle Edmund (Great Britain) bt 11-Kevin Anderson (South Africa) 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4; Denis Istomin (Uzbekistan) bt Pierre-Hugues Herbert (France) 6-2, 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (7-3); Nikoloz Basilashvili (Georgia) bt Gerald Melzer (Austria) 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3; Ruben Bemelmans (Belgium) bt 18-Lucas Pouille (France) 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (8-6); Yoshihito Nishioka (Japan) bt 27-Philipp Kohlschreiber (Germany) 6-3, 2-6, 6-0, 1-6, 6-2; Andreas Seppi (Italy) bt Corentin Moutet (France) 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2; Ivo Karlovic (Croatia) bt Laslo Djere (Serbia) 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 7-6 (7-2); Yuichi Sugita (Japan) bt 8-Jack Sock (US) 6-1, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-3.
First round: Belinda Bencic (Switzerland) bt 5-Venus Williams (US) 6-3, 7-5; Luksika Kumkhum (Thailand) bt Johanna Larsson (Sweden) 6-3, 7-5; Petra Martic (Croatia) bt Alison Van Uytvanck (Belgium) 7-6 (7-5), 6-3; Irina-Camelia Begu (Romania) bt 31-Ekaterina Makarova (Russia) 3-6, 6-4, 8-6; 23-Daria Gavrilova (Australia) bt Irina Falconi (US) 6-1, 6-1; Elise Mertens (Belgium) bt Viktoria Kuzmova (Slovakia) 6-2, 6-1; Alize Cornet (France) bt Xinyu Wang (China) 6-4, 6-2; 12-Julia Goerges (Germany) bt Sofia Kenin (US) 6-4, 6-4; Shuai Zhang (China) bt 13-Sloane Stephens (US) 2-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2; Denisa Allertova (Czech Republic) bt Pauline Parmentier (France) 6-3, 6-0; Magda Linette (Poland) bt Jennifer Brady (US) 2-6, 6-4, 6-3; 22-Daria Kasatkina (Russia) bt Anna Schmiedlova (Slovakia) 6-0, 6-3; Marta Kostyuk (Ukraine) bt 5-Shuai Peng (China) 6-2, 6-2; Olivia Rogowska (Australia) bt Jaimee Fourlis (Australia) 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2; Katerina Siniakova (Czech Republic) bt Maria Sakkari (Greece) 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4; 4-Elina Svitolina (Ukraine) bt Ivana Jorovic (Serbia) 6-3, 6-2; 7-Jelena Ostapenko (Latvia) bt Francesca Schiavone (Italy) 6-1, 6-4; Ying-Ying Duan (China) bt Mariana Duque Marino (Colombia) 6-0, 6-1; Mona Barthel (Germany) bt Monica Niculescu (Romania) 6-4, 7-5; 32-Anett Kontaveit (Estonia) bt Aleksandra Krunic (Serbia) 6-4, 7-5; Kaia Kanepi (Estonia) bt 24-Dominika Cibulkova (Slovakia) 6-2, 6-2; Monica Puig (Puerto Rico) bt Samantha Stosur (Australia) 4-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4; Carla Suarez Navarro (Spain) bt Magdalena Frech (Poland) 7-5, 6-3; Timea Babos (Hungary) bt 10-Coco Vandeweghe (US) 7-6 (7-4), 6-2; 15-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia) bt Kateryna Kozlova (Ukraine) 3-6, 6-4, 6-3; Kateryna Bondarenko (Ukraine) bt Viktorija Golubic (Switzerland) 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 6-2; Kirsten Flipkens (Belgium) bt Alison Riske (US) 2-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3; 19-Magdalena Rybarikova (Slovakia) bt Taylor Townsend (US) 6-0, 7-5; 30-Kiki Bertens (Netherlands) bt Catherine Bellis (US) 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-2; Nicole Gibbs (US) bt Viktoriya Tomova (Bulgaria) 6-1, 6-1; Jana Fett (Croatia) bt Misa Eguchi (Japan) 6-3, 6-2; 2-Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark) bt Mihaela Buzarnescu (Romania) 6-2, 6-3.
Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2018