Tennis

Kerber: It's tough staying at the top

US Open defending champion suffers shock first-round loss to American-Japanese Osaka

Angelique Kerber admitted that her two spells as world No. 1 had made for an uncomfortable existence as her mediocre season suffered a new low with a first-round exit at the US Open in New York yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Sixth seed Kerber was defeated 6-3, 6-1 by American-Japanese teenager Naomi Osaka, becoming the first defending champion to exit in the opening round since Svetlana Kuznetsova suffered a similar fate in 2005.

The German left-hander became No. 1 for the first time after winning last year's US Open title, but she handed it back to Serena Williams when the American star won the Australian Open in January.

In March, and with Williams off the Tour to prepare for the birth of her first child, Kerber returned to the top only to lose it again to Karolina Pliskova after Wimbledon.

"I think because it's a new situation," said the 29-year-old when asked why it was so hard for her to cement her place on top of the rankings.

"Of course, you have always the goal for years of reaching the top, but then if you are there, you actually don't know what to expect, and then it's just the process.

"You have to get used to everything. You have to schedule your day, plan completely different and it's for sure tougher staying on top."

(When) you are there, you actually don’t know what to expect... Angelique Kerber, on why it is hard to stay at the top of the ranking

Osaka, who has dual nationality, warned that she was just getting started at Flushing Meadows, where she used to practise.

"When we were little, we would come to the US Open every year. And even to practise, sometimes I would play here," said the 19-year-old, whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese.

"So the site feels really familiar to me... It's nostalgic every time I come here, so I'm always really happy to play here."

Osaka's aggressive style, more than Kerber's mistakes, won her the match and the youngster, who could meet French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko if she reaches the fourth round, can look ahead with confidence.

CONFIDENCE

"Moving forward, I feel like I know that I can play with the top players now, so I don't have to be as nervous as I was today," she said in a warning to her next opponent, Swedish qualifier Rebecca Peterson or Czech Denisa Allertova.

Kerber's loss to Osaka also means she will slip out of the world's top 10.

This year, the 29-year-old German made only the last 16 at the Australian Open and Wimbledon with a first-round exit at the French Open sandwiched in between.

Her build-up to the US Open was then hampered by an elbow injury with a Round-of-16 run in Toronto followed by an opening defeat by Ekaterina Makarova in Cincinnati.

She is still seeking her first title since last year's US Open triumph and highlighted the struggles of a batch of players trying to fill the power vacuum left by Williams' pregnancy, Victoria Azarenka's recent maternity leave and Maria Sharapova's 15-month doping ban.

At the start of the US Open, eight women were in contention to be world No. 1 at the end of the fortnight.

One of those, Britain's Johanna Konta, lost on Monday and dropped off the list.

In another indication of the vagaries of the world No. 1 pursuit, second-ranked Simona Halep could take the top spot even though she was knocked out of the tournament by Sharapova in Monday's first round.

Pliskova, meanwhile, stayed on course to preserve her status by seeing off Magda Linette of Poland yesterday morning, but the 2016 runner-up has yet to win a Major. - WIRE SERVICES


SELECTED RESULTS

MEN'S SINGLES 1ST RD

  • Rafael Nadal (x1) bt Dusan Lajovic 7-6 (8/6), 6-2, 6-2
  • Roger Federer (x3) bt Frances Tiafoe 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4

WOMEN'S SINGLES 1ST RD

  • Karolina Pliskova (x1) bt Magda Linette 6-2, 6-1
  • Naomi Osaka bt Angelique Kerber (x6) 6-3, 6-1
  • Jelena Ostapenko (x12) bt Lara Arruabarrena 6-2, 1-6, 6-1
  • Madison Keys (x15) bt Elise Mertens 6-3, 7-6 (8/6)
  • Barbora Strycova (x23) bt Misaki Doi 6-1, 6-3
  • Yanina Wickmayer bt Lesya Tsurenko (x28) 6-3, 6-1
US OPENserena williamsMaria Sharapova