Tennis

It's ta-ta for Konta, Muguruza

Third and ninth seeds crash out in Australian Open's second round as Halep, Sharapova advance

Top seeds Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta were the biggest casualties in the Australian Open women's field yesterday as the scorching 39 deg C heat wreaked havoc in Melbourne.

Making it through the furnace-like conditions though were world No. 1 Simona Halep, sixth seed Karolina Pliskova, eighth seed Caroline Garcia and five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova, who set up an enticing third-round clash with Angelique Kerber tomorrow.

Ninth seed Konta wilted against world No. 123 Bernarda Para, while world No. 3 Muguruza lost 7-6(7/1), 6-4 to Taiwan's Hsieh Su-wei.

For a minute shy of two hours, Muguruza, many people's Australian Open favourite, blazed away in the heat, trying to solve the puzzle set by her 32-year-old opponent, who had won only twice against players in the top 20 in her 17 years on Tour.

The trouble was that Muguruza's main weapon, the sledgehammer groundstrokes that took her past Venus Williams to last year's Wimbledon title, proved futile.

The third seed, who needed treatment early on for a blister on her left foot, found her heaviest hits coming back in unusual places and, to make matters worse, she was often left flat-footed by Hsieh's punchy and double-handed groundstrokes.

It was all rather perplexing for Muguruza as she chalked up 43 unforced errors.

The 24-year-old Spaniard refused to blame the heat, the blister, or a strapped right thigh for her earliest loss in Melbourne since a second-round thrashing by Serena Williams in 2013.

"She's definitely a very tricky opponent," said Muguruza of Hsieh. "I think today she played well. I could have done things better, but at the end, she deserves to win. That's really it."

It was an honest appraisal. Apart from when she recovered from 5-2 in the first set and a brief rally at the end of the second, she was inferior against the former world doubles No. 1, whose box of tricks featured several shots not found in any tennis textbook.

Hsieh, who wobbled briefly when 5-2 ahead in the second set, was especially productive on the backhand side, sending 12 winners past Muguruza, the last one coming on match-point.

HIT HARDER

"Today, I tried to hit the ball a little bit harder because I didn't want to let it destroy me on the court," said Hsieh.

"I do a lot of different training. I practise topspin, flat balls, slice... So against different players, I try to do a little bit different stuff. Not try to play the same game. It helps a lot."

Hsieh's reward is a third-round clash tomorrow with 26th seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who had rallied from a set and a break down to beat Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko 2-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Top seed Halep will next meet American Lauren Davis after a brisk 6-2, 6-2 demolition of Canada's Eugenie Bouchard, while Kerber celebrated her 30th birthday with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Croatia's Donna Vekic. - REUTERS

Tennis