Berlin | Azarenka topples Sakkari, as Zheng ousts Osaka

Tuesday in Berlin saw Victoria Azarenka topple Maria Sakkari, Zheng Qinwen overcome Naomi Osaka, and Ons Jabeur’s opening match suspended overnight at the ecotrans Ladies Open.

It was really hard because I got three or four match points and she saved them really well. Naomi Osaka, she has to be one of the greatest players: she has a strong serve and hits hard. For me, this win means a lot and it’s never easy playing against her. Zheng Qinwen

Azarenka, a former World No 1 from Belarus, clinched a spot in the 2nd-round with a 6-4 6-2 win over Sakkari, the No 7 seed from Greece, after an hour and 33 minutes.

Now ranked 19, Azarenka, who was a semi-finalist here in 2021, collected her 4th Top 10 win of the year, and maintained her dominance of Sakkari, having won all 4 of their professional outings.

Never broken in the match, Azarenka fended off 7 aces by Sakkari, and won 80% of her own first-serve points, while also prevailing on 61% of the Greek’s second-serve points.

“I think I had good variety with my serve,” Azarenka said later. “I felt like I applied good pressure on my return, keep continuously creating opportunities in the first set. Once I broke, I felt like I really stepped more on that pedal and continued to apply pressure, and closed it out.”

In the 2nd-round, Azarenka will have her first career meeting with Turkish qualifier Zeynep Sonmez, a 22-year-old ranked 157 in the world, who notched up her first career tour-level win by defeating lucky loser Arantxa Rus from the Netherlands on Monday.

The 2-time Grand Slam champion is still seeking her first career grass-court title, with her best result at a grass-court event coming at Eastbourne, where she made the final back in 2010, but fell to Ekaterina Makarova from Russia.

For 9th-ranked Sakkari, the defeat ends a run of good form on the Berlin grass, where she reached the semi-finals of this event in each of the last 2 years.

Linda Noskova took down wild-card Angelique Kerber and awaits the winner of the Ons Jabeur / Wang Xinyu match suspended overnight in Berlin

© Inaki Esnaola/Getty Images

Ons Jabeur, the No 8 seed from Tunisia, was the champion here in 2022, and captured the opening set of her 1st-round encounter with Chinese qualifier Wang Xinyu, before play was suspended overnight due to rain.

The World No 10 led by a double-break at 4-1 before 40th-ranked Wang charged back to level proceedings at 4-4, but Jabeur regained the break at 5-4 after her backhand return was netted by Wang, and the Tunisian then served out the set to love.

While the players sat down at the changeover between sets, the rain came down harder, and play was called off for the day, meaning that Czech teenager Linda Noskova, had to wait until Wednesday to find out if she would play Jabeur or Wang in round 2.

Earlier in the day, Noskova, ranked 28, picked up another win over a former World No 1, ousting German wild-card hope Angelique Kerber, 7-6(4) 2-6 6-4, in her opener.

In their first career meeting, the 19-year-old battled past the 3-time Grand Slam champion in an hour and 59 minutes.

“I started [on grass] basically last year,” Noskova said. “I’m still, kind of, trying to find the rhythm, and the bounces, and everything, but I think I’m getting there, getting better every day. I think my serve, I can use it, it helps me a lot. So I just gotta do what I can do.”

Prior to this, Noskova had played just 4 tour-level matches on grass in her career, and won only one of them.

Kerber, however, has won 3 grass-court titles in her storied career, including the 2018 title at Wimbledon, while the 36-year-old, who returned from maternity leave at the start of this season, has also reached 4 other grass-court finals, including 2016 Wimbledon.

Noskova’s power game, though, was clicking in Tuesday’s decisive third set, where she never faced a break point and won two-thirds of opportunities returning Kerber’s second delivery.

The young Czech continues her solid rise in 2024, having already shocked reigning World No 1 Iga Swiatek en route to her first Grand Slam quarter-final at this year’s Australian Open.

Zheng Qinwen got past Naomi Osaka in 3 sets and will meet Katerina Siniakova in round 2

© Inaki Esnaola/Getty Images

Earlier, 6th-seeded Zheng Qinwen from China fired 23 aces to take down Japan’s Naomi Osaka, 6-4 3-6 6-3, the most in any match on the WTA tour since Canada’s Rebecca Marino struck 24 against France’s Caroline Garcia in 2022 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Zheng also saved 3 of 4 break points, and took advantage of 30 unforced errors by the 4-time Grand Slam champion.

The former World No 1 endured a narrow grass-court loss for a second time in less than a week, having bowed out of ‘s-Hertogenbosch to Canada’s Bianca Andreescu on Friday.

Nevertheless, Osaka continues to prove to be one of the biggest unseeded threats in any draw, but while she pushed Zheng to a third set, the current Australian Open runner-up and No 6 seed served out her second win over the Japanese after 2 hours and 10 minutes on Steffi Graf Stadium.

“It was really hard because I got three or four match points and she saved them really well,” Zheng said on court after the match. “Naomi Osaka, she has to be one of the greatest players: she has a strong serve and hits hard. For me, this win means a lot and it’s never easy playing against her.”

Their rivalry has an added twist as both have previously been coached by Wim Fissette, who worked with Zheng during her breakout 2023 season, only to part ways with the Chinese when Osaka returned from maternity leave last autumn.

Zheng bears no ill will towards Fissette or Osaka, and proved it by defeating the latter at the Foro Italico last month.

“I know she’s always really tough to beat, doesn’t matter what surface it is,” Zheng said in Rome. “She won a lot of Grand Slam titles before, and it’s not easy to come back after being a mother. I’ve always had a lot of respect to players like this.

“I think, today, I tried to give my everything on court, and tried to fight. I’m really proud of myself, and I also want to say to Naomi that she did really good because not all players have this mentality to come back as a mother.”

While she often struggles to achieve a high first-serve percentage, the Chinese put on an impeccable serving performance against Osaka, striking 7 aces in the opening set to put herself in front early on.

Osaka responded with some strong hitting of her own, taking the lone break of the second set with a scintillating rally, and ultimately levelling at a set apiece.

The decider came down to a single break, which Zheng snatched in a tricky 4th game, and she held on from there, even as Osaka gamely saved 3 match points at the match’s thrilling conclusion.

Striking 10 aces in the third set, Zheng clinched the win behind a well-struck forehand, jamming Osaka into a final error.

In all, Zheng hit 41 winners to 29 unforced errors, while Osaka ended the match with 20 winners to 30 miscues.

Awaiting the No 6 seed in round 2 is Czech qualifier and former WTA doubles No 1 Katerina Siniakova, who knocked out American Emma Navarro in straight sets on Monday.

In other Day 2 results, Ekaterina Alexandrova from Russia beat Beatriz Haddad Maia from Brazil, 6-4 6-4, and will face top-seeded Coco Gauff from the USA next, while, in a battle of wild-cards, Croatia’s Donna Vekic was a1-6 6-1 6-3 winner over Jule Neimeier from Germany, and she will meet Jessica Pegula, the 4th-seeded American next.



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