Australian Open: Serena Williams & Naomi Osaka win but Angelique Kerber loses

Serena Williams was playing her 100th match at the Australian Open

Serena Williams launched her latest bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam with a 56-minute demolition of Laura Siegemund at the Australian Open.

The American, 39, said it was “vintage Serena” as she thrashed the German 6-1 6-1 in front of a small, unmasked crowd on Rod Laver Arena.

US Open champion Naomi Osaka also made a convincing start with a 6-1 6-2 win over Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

But former champion Angelique Kerber was the first seed to be knocked out.

The German 23rd seed, who was one of 72 players to spend 14 days in ‘hard’ quarantine before the tournament – confined to a hotel room and unable to train outside – was beaten 6-0 6-4 by American Bernarda Pera.

Both Williams and Osaka had withdrawn from warm-up events last week with shoulder issues but neither showed any sign of injury as they made swift progress to the second round, where they will also be joined by Williams’ 40-year-old sister Venus, who beat Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens 7-5 6-2.

Osaka will play France’s Caroline Garcia next, while the elder Williams sister faces veteran Sara Errani.

French Open champion Iga Swiatek raced into the second round with a 6-1 6-3 win over Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, but US Open quarter-finalist Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria lost 7-5 6-2 to Taiwanese Hsieh Su-wei.

Hseih will next play Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, who beat Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2 4-6 6-3 in her first match for 15 months.

The 2019 US Open champion had not played for 467 days after struggling with a knee injury.

“I’ve been through quite a bit in those 15 months. It wasn’t easy,” she said.

Serena channels Flo-Jo in rapid win

Williams made a nervy start against Siegemund, double-faulting on the first point of the match before losing her opening service game.

However the American, who withdrew from last week’s Yarra Valley Classic semi-final with a shoulder problem, did not take long to find her footing.

She hit 16 winners and four aces against 51st-ranked Siegemund, setting up a second-round meeting with Serbia’s Nina Stojanovic.

Williams wore a one-legged, black, pink and red catsuit, which she later said was a tribute to late American track and field icon Florence Griffith-Joyner.

“I was inspired by Flo-Jo, who was a wonderful track athlete, amazing athlete when I was growing up,” Williams said.

“Watching her fashion, just always changing, her outfits were always amazing.”

No line judges at quiet Melbourne Park

Spectators watch Ons Jabeur and Andrea Petkovic at Melbourne Park
Limited crowd numbers are allowed at Melbourne Park

There are limited crowd numbers at this year’s Australian Open, with Victoria’s health officer giving permission for 25,000-30,000 fans to enter Melbourne Park each day.

The stands looked sparse, with fans spaced out according to socially distant seating plans.

Melbourne had a 112-day lockdown in October to prevent the spread of Covid-19, with bars, restaurants and shops gradually reopening since then, and there had been concern among locals about the risks of hosting an event with so many international players flying into Australia during the pandemic.

There are no line judges at the Australian Open in an attempt to keep the tournament bio-secure, with ball-tracking cameras used instead.

Voices call out decisions in real-time, with recordings made by Australia’s health workers, firefighters and other emergency services personnel as a tribute to their work.

“I feel like if they do want to continue this way, I actually have no complaints about it because I think that there’s a lot of arguments that aren’t going to happen because of this technology,” Osaka said of the decision.

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US Open 2020: Jennifer Brady beats Angelique Kerber to make last eight

Jennifer Brady is yet to drop a set in this year’s US Open
Venue: Flushing Meadows, New York Dates: 31 Aug-13 Sept
Coverage: Selected live radio and text commentaries on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Sounds, the BBC Sport website and app.

American Jennifer Brady reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final by disposing of 2016 champion Angelique Kerber at the US Open.

The 25-year-old, seeded 28th, won 6-1 6-4 on Louis Armstrong Stadium at Flushing Meadows.

German 32-year-old Kerber, a three-time major champion, lost the first set in just 22 minutes and won only 35% points on her second serve throughout.

Brady faces Yulia Putintseva, who beat eighth seed Petra Martic 6-3 2-6 6-4.

Kazakhstan’s Putintseva, the 23rd seed, led 5-0 in the first set and 5-1 in the decider but was able to hold off attempted comebacks from Martic both times.

Brady, who received treatment for a leg injury in the second set, said: “It feels great, I’m so happy. I played a spectacular first set.”

Although Kerber became more competitive as the match progressed, the American held her nerve and sealed victory when the 17th seed sent a return long.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas, Jordan Thompson, Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova progress

Lizette Cabrera, a 22-year-old from Queensland in her second US Open main draw, was eliminated by Danka Kovinic from Montenegro in three sets, 6-4 3-6 6-2. West Australian Maddison Inglis, also 22 and in her first main draw here, lost to 24th seed Magda Linette 6-1 4-6 6-4.

Among the top seeds in the men’s draw, Stefanos Tsitsipas kicked off his quest for a maiden Grand Slam title in style as he overwhelmed Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-2 6-1 6-1.

Ajla Tomljanovic loses in the first round to Angelique Kerber.Credit:Getty Images

Tsitsipas, who entered the first Grand Slam of the COVID-19 era fresh off a run to the semi-finals of the US Open tune-up event, never faced a break point and broke Ramos-Vinolas seven times during the 98-minute match.

The 22-year-old Tsitsipas, who has never been beyond the second round of the US Open, came into this week with 16 wins to his name this season and has been tipped by many to make a deep run in a tournament missing a number of top players.

Tsitsipas broke to go ahead 3-1 and that opened up his game as he went on to play the rest of the contest on his terms.

The loss brought a speedy end to Ramos-Vinolas’s return to competition as the Spaniard, in his first tour-level event since the ATP Tour returned from its COVID-19 hiatus, withdrew from last week’s tune-up to be present at the birth of his first child.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, of Greece, serves to Albert Ramos-Vinolas, in his first round victory.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, of Greece, serves to Albert Ramos-Vinolas, in his first round victory.Credit:AP

No. 9 Diego Schwartzman became the highest seed to lose so far, falling 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 7-5 to 76th-ranked Cameron Norrie.

Germany’s fifth seed Alexander Zverev got through a tricky first-round encounter against 2017 finalist Kevin Anderson in four sets, winning 7-6(2) 5-7 6-3 7-5 to move into the second round.

Anderson fired 20 aces to Zverev’s 18 in the battle of the big servers but the South African, who returned to the tour after a series of injuries, was no match for the German’s groundstrokes.

Among the women’s seeds, Karolina Pliskova, starting as the top seed in the absence of Barty and world No.2 Simona Halep, got a roaring start to her bid for a maiden Grand Slam title, downing first-round opponent Anhelina Kalinina 6-4 6-0 to kick off the action on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The 28-year-old Czech, who led the WTA in aces in four of the last five years, struggled with an uncharacteristically uneven serve in the first set, committing three double faults and getting only slightly more than half of her first serves in to give her unseeded opponent a fighting chance.

“I started not really great with the first game but after I was able to somehow, you know, like step in the court, was playing quite aggressive,” she said.

Pliskova, the 2016 US Open runner-up, did indeed find her footing in the second set, winning all her first-serve points and committing just one unforced error, as her Ukrainian opponent was left scrambling.

“I think my game was quite good for a first round,” said Pliskova, who played in front of empty stands as the tournament is being held without fans due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“For sure I prefer to have people around me.”

The empty stadium in New York.

The empty stadium in New York.Credit:Getty Images

The match took place on an eerily quiet court, with the roar of jet engines and the rumble of the New York City subway piercing the silence. Tournament organisers piped in crowd noise to offer a taste of normality in between games and after particularly strong plays.

The 31st seed Anastasjia Sevastova, of Latvia, eliminated the popular young American Coco Gauff 6-3 5-7 6-4. Sixth seed Petra Kvitova dispatched Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3 6-2 with a powerful display to reach the next round.

SMH, Reuters, NYT

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