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New York | Konta, Barty and Pliskova survive scares as Kerber falls

New York | Konta, Barty and Pliskova survive scares as Kerber falls

Always, there are high hopes combined with jitters when opening a Grand Slam campaign for the seeds, who often stutter and, on this first day of the US Open in New York, it was no different

She’s an incredible player – she was top-10 last year – she is no walk in the park… More than anything I’m just incredibly pleased with how I was able to adapt in that match. Johanna Konta

The No 2 seed, Ashleigh Barty, went walk-about after stepping out to open proceedings on Arthur Ashe Stadium, losing the first set in astonishing fashion, 1-6, to Zarina Diyas from Kazakhstan, ranked 80 in the world, but she recovered to fight on.

Britain’s No 1, Johanna Konta also advanced to the second round after a three set battle, but Harriet Dart, who so nobly qualified to get into the main draw, tumbled out.

Konta started out with a dominance that has been lacking of late, only to find herself in a real dog fight in the second, which she lost to former top-tenner Daria Kasatkina.

The 28-year-old had lost the last two meetings against Kasatkina, both on hard surfaces, but she started superbly against the Russian, who struggled to get onside with her serve as the Briton raced into a 4-1 armed with a double break.

The 16th seed required just 24 minutes to wrap up the first set 6-1 and began on the front foot in the second one too, but Kasatkina finally found some rhythm and, aided by a mixture of unforced errors from Konta and good fortune, secured a break of her own in the 5th.

Konta became embroiled in a furious row with the umpire after two controversial line calls went against her and she struggled to regain her composure as Kasatkina forced a deciding set after winning the second, 6-4.

It could so easily have been curtains but, somehow, after a bathroom break, Konta recovered her original mindset and came through the tricky opening round match to kickstart her 2019 US Open campaign with an impressive win over the 22-year-old former Wimbledon quarter-finalist, 6-1 4-6 6-2, out on a packed Court 17.

The spat with the umpire sparked her back to the form she had produced in the first and, true to her inconsistency on the serve, Kasatkina produced a disappointing double fault when facing 3 set points to seal Konta’s progress.

The British No 1 may have experienced some frustration over the manner in which she let her opponent back into the match, but she is made of stern stuff and overcame the talented Russian in some style in an hour and 46 minutes.

”She’s an incredible player – she was top-10 last year – she is no walk in the park…” she said. “More than anything I’m just incredibly pleased with how I was able to adapt in that match.”

Fresh off the back of a run to the semi-finals of the French Open and the last-eight at Wimbledon, Konta is bidding for a third consecutive deep run at a Grand Slam.

After overcoming a potential early banana skin, she stands a good chance of booking her spot in the second week and could well prove to be a contender, but has to navigate choppy waters as the 16th seed for the title.

Kasatkina’s serve proved to be her achilles heel, delivering 4 double faults in the opening set, while Konta was seeing the ball like a football.

Having been totally over-powered in the first, however, the wily Kasatkina dug in to for a 3-2 lead in the second before levelling the match.

Konta regained control in the decider, as her opponent’s issues on serve returned, and moved smoothly into round two.

With this win, Konta is one round closer to breaking records for her home country, with the last British woman to make it to the quarter-finals of the US Open being Jo Durie, in 1983.

It was less good news for Harriet Dart, who faded in disappointing fashion.

The Briton fought through qualifying to book her spot in the main draw at Flushing Meadows but unravelled during a first-round meeting with fellow qualifier and World No 152 Ana Bogdan.

The 6-3 6-1 loss was an improvement for the 23-year old who was thoroughly thumped the last time she qualified for the main draw of a Grand Slam, receiving a double bagel pasting from Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open.

World No 2 Ash Barty bounced back from her nightmare start to overcome Zarina Diyas, 1-6 6-3 6-2, moving through in an hour and 41 minutes.

The Australian’s only previous encounter with Diyas had also been a tight affair, a 7-6(3) 6-4 win in the second round of Kuala Lumpur in 2013, but after 28 minutes of struggling to find her range on her serve and groundstrokes, Barty found herself a set away from a shock upset.

The 23-year-old’s renowned problem-solving abilities, however, came to the fore and she gained more and more control over her game as the match progressed.

“If we look through draws and everyone who is expected to win, then there would be no point playing here. We’d already know who would win the tournament,” Barty said ahead of her opening match against Diyas.

Despite tallying only one winner in the first set, Diyas constantly moved the ball around the court and was able to inject pace behind her forehand when needed.

She also targeted the shaky Barty backhand, sealing a first break for the unseeded player as the first hints of the upset began to brew.

Matters did not improve for Barty as the opening frame began to slip away, and the forehand soon joined the backhand as a source of unforced errors.

The Australian produced 19 in the first set, and her poor 25% first serve percentage allowed Diyas to swing freely on return.

Another flurry of fine forehands – a sharp angle, a drop-shot and another down-the-line – took Diyas to the double break and by the time the Washington quarter-finalist moved up 5-0, she was so confident off the ground that she even willingly brought Barty, one of the best volleyers in the game, into net with a short slice to nail the pass.

Two games later, she coolly served the set out to 15.

The French champion is an expert at making adjustments, and as she slammed 2 forehand winners to open the second set, it was clear that she had put the woes of the first set firmly behind her.

Barty nearly halved her unforced error count to 10, and almost doubled her first serve percentage to 49%
With increased security behind her delivery, the former World No 1 did not face a break point in the second or third set, and a succession of confident holds provided Barty with a solid base from which to repair her game and begin dismantling that of her opponent.

She struck in the 8th game, flashing the kind of forehands that had been absent in the first set to reach break point as Diyas’s own forehand went awry.

A game later, a fourth ace would level the match for Barty in emphatic fashion.

Firmly in control, Barty asserted her authority over her lower-ranked opponent throughout the decider.

A tight tussle in the 4th game proved crucial, and Barty captured the first break of the final set on her 4th break point as a Diyas forehand went long.

From there on, Barty rolled through the remainder of the match, reeling off 16 of the last 20 points of the match as Diyas, who had only hit 8 unforced errors in the first set, reached a final tally of 31.

“I was really pleased to be able to solve this riddle,” Barty said.

“It’s been a long time since I played her – 6 or 7 years ago, so that’s almost a nothing match, a bit of a clean slate, a fresh start.
“I haven’t seen much of her lately so it’s a bit of new one to me. I know she’s done well in big tournaments before and presents a challenge. She’s solid, she competes hard and you have to be ready.”

Up next for Barty in the second round will be either Lauren Davis or qualifier Johanna Larsson, while Greece’s World No 30 Maria Sakkari is the highest-ranked potential opponent before the round of 16.

\Czech 3rd seed Karolina Pliskova, who has a chance to finish the Flushing Meadows fortnight as World No 1, also struggled into the second round of the US Open on Monday, holding off a spirited challenge by the narrowest of margins from a 138th-ranked qualifier Tereza Martincova, 7-6(6) 7-6(3), after an hour and 46 minutes.

“It’s tough to play Tereza,” Pliskova said. “We never played and especially tough to play in the first round.
“Not my best performance today for sure, and she made some great shots.”

Pliskova and her compatriot exchanged breaks of serve through the first 6 games of their match, Martincova breaking again for a 5-4 edge and coming within 2 points of taking the set before Pliskova rallied and broke back to draw level at 5-5.

The tall Czech took the first tiebreak with forehand winners on the final two points, then squandered a 3-0 lead in the second set before taking the final 4 points of the last breaker, smashing a service winner to claim the match.

“Not happy that I lost 3 breaks of serve in a row. That’s not possible for next time,” Pliskova said. “I’m happy I could get through. And happy to win in two tiebreaks. That hasn’t happened for a long time.”

Pliskova, Barty, Wimbledon champion Simona Halep and top-ranked defending champion Naomi Osaka all have a chance to top the World rankings at the end of the US Open.

Osaka and Halep must win the title to be No 1, while Pliskova needs at least a quarter-final run but Barty is the front runner, defending fewer points from last year’s Open than Osaka.

A big casualty on Day 1 was former US Open Champion Angelique Kerber, who fell to Kristina Mladenovic from France, 5-7 6-0 6-4, in a 2 hour 24 minute long topsy-turvy battle.

The 14th seed from Germany won the title in 2016 but has had a speckled run in New York over the years.

Mladenovic, however, a former Top 10 player, is rediscovering her mojo and the 2015 US Open quarter-finalist reversed the trend after losing 4 of her 5 previous meetings with former World No 1 Kerber.

The World No 54 scored 45 winners to Kerber’s 36, and won 23 of the 30 points when she ventured to net, a super 77 percent success rate in the forecourt.

Mladenovic will play Fiona Ferro in the second round after her fellow Frenchwoman dispatched Australia’s Daria Gavrilova, 6-3 6-4, earlier on Monday.

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