New York | US Open gets off at a gallop with Swiatek stamping her authority as Sakkari is shattered

Top seed Iga Swiatek gave notice of her intent to keep her hands on the US Open trophy when she opened her campaign in New York on Monday with an emphatic win over Rebecca Peterson, but several seeds fell at the first hurdle, including Maria Sakkari and Veronika Kudermetova, while Elena Rybakina, Karolina Muchova, Belinda Bencic, Victoria Azarenka, and Beatrice Haddad Maia were all early winners on Day 1.

Definitely the two previous defeats played a role, I was very nervous. I don't know what I'm going to do, I really don't know, it's always the same. Maybe I should take a break, I'm suffering on the court. I can't make a decision now, it's hard. I don't have a clear mind. Maria Sakkari

Swiatek is bidding to become the first woman to successfully defend the US Open title since Serena Williams won a hat-trick of titles from 2012-2014, and the 22-year old Pole took just 58 minutes to dispatch Peterson, the Swedish No 1, 6-0 6-1, delivering a New York bagel to boot.

“I really wanted to play solid and start the tournament with everything I was focusing on in practice for the whole week here,” said Swiatek, after she overwhelmed her opponent with 5 breaks of serve and 20 winners on the Arthur Ashe Stadium. “I’m happy that I could play such a great game, and with all the pressure and expectations, that I can just have fun on court.

“I just keep trying to remind myself that I want to develop as a player, and that’s the most important thing for me.

“All the numbers and stuff they don’t really matter. I think that’s what the best of our sport do. So, I’m trying to follow that and play my game no matter what.”

Swiatek gave Peterson, ranked 86, no quarter, taking the first set 6-0 in just 24 minutes and wrapping up the match without much further ado.

An ace on the opening point set the tone, as Swiatek rushed the Swede and forced Peterson to play extra shots with exquisite brick-wall defence.

As Peterson displayed her retrieval skills trouble looming at 1-1 and deuce, Swiatek constructed a quality point, producing a deft drop-shot, then an overhead, before arrowing her backhand pass to regain the momentum, and race ahead towards victory.

While the Pole’s pinpoint serving was all-encompassing, she did gift a few errors and Peterson was rewarded for her persistence by getting on the scoreboard with 37 minutes on the match clock.

In her on court post-match interview, the relaxed Pole joked that she had ignored Frances Tiafoe’s message, who had asked her not to wrap up the match too quickly so that he could get enough time to warm up.

With her 1st-round win at Flushing Meadows, Swiatek earned $123,000, which, added to her career prize money of $19,906,763, brings her total up to a cool $20,029,763, and she now becomes the first woman and second person born in the 2000s to achieve this feat, something Carlos Alcaraz did on the men’s side last week.

Targeting her 5th Grand Slam title, Swiatek will face Daria Saville of Australia in round 2, who was an easy 6-0 6-2 winner over young American wild-card Clervie Ngounoue.

The current World No 179 is working her way back up the rankings following 9 months out due to reconstructive knee surgery last autumn.

Saville is as determined as they come, and will dig in for more prolonged rallies than Peterson, but, back at Adelaide 2022, Swiatek progressed 6-3 6-3, past the Australian and will hope to do so again.


Iga Swiatek is very engaging with the press

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

While the 4-time Grand Slam champion keeps on forcing the chasing pack to raise its level, just to be able to compete with her, consistency remains the key component for Swiatek.

The Pole, who is now 18-1 in major 1st-round duels, including 5-0 in New York, has lost just once to opposition outside the Top 50 at Grand Slams, and even her defeat at the hands of Elena Svitolina in the Wimbledon quarter-finals is deceptive since the Ukrainian is a former World No 3 before her maternity break.

Always engaging with the media, Swiatek was asked about the support she is receiving from skiing greats Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn, before she was asked whether she was a fan of the winter sport.

“Oh my God, the last time I skied was when I was seven and I had an accident that I could have died, so I really got scared,” she said. “I don’t get scared that easily, but, for sure, stopped me. I am sad that, no, I am a pro. I don’t have time to do sports like that, and I wish I could.

“This was a traumatic experience for me when I was young, so it was wise to stop. When you are scared of such sports that you need higher adrenaline, you need to be focused and ready, it can be pretty dangerous.

“I feel like our sports are connected. This is a sport where women have the same events and rhythm as the guys, and when I hear interviews with Mikaela, it feels I’m kinda the same. It’s nice to have someone you can look up to who shares the same experience.”


Rebeka Masarova upset World No 8 Maria Sakkari prompting a meltdown from the Greek

© Sarah Stier/Getty Images

While Swiatek advanced safely, there was no such luck for Sakkari, Greece’s 8th seed, who became the highest ranked casualty of the top half of the draw’s early round action, beaten 6-4 6-4 by Spain’s Rebeka Masarova, ranked 71 in the world.

That Sakkari is going through some sort of a career crisis became clear when the Greek broke down in tears at her post match press conference.

The 28-year old World No 8 blew an early lead before losing in straight sets as her confidence evaporated.

The Greek reached the semi-finals of the US Open back in 2021, but has struggled to mount a serious run in New York since, and this is the 3rd major in 2023 that she has fallen at the first hurdle.

Sakkari’s year started off well enough with a 3rd-round appearance at the Australian Open, but her performance faded, and she is now considering a break from the sport.

“Definitely the two previous defeats played a role, I was very nervous,” the former World No 3 admitted, tears welling in her eyes. “I don’t know what I’m going to do, I really don’t know, it’s always the same.

“Maybe I should take a break, I’m suffering on the court. I can’t make a decision now, it’s hard. I don’t have a clear mind.

Sakkari struggled to pin-point where things had gone wrong against Masarova.

“I was nervous, but I started well. It’s not that I was tight, I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she added. “I was up 4-1, I wasn’t playing great, but I did what I had to do.

“I continued to have anxiety, but it’s not like I lost my mind. I cannot explain it. It’s very unpleasant for me.”

Sakkari shouted at her team to leave the court when the match started unravel, but it didn’t help her settle as Masarova went on to win.

“I was ashamed to be seen like that. I was embarrassed, it was also my sister’s birthday. I felt bad, I feel like I’m embarrassing them,” Sakkari admitted. “They didn’t do anything to me, they were perfect.”

Sakkari hired a new coach in 2023, switching Mark Petchey for Mark Philippoussis, who made it to the final of the US Open in 1998 and Wimbledon 3 years later, but finished as runner-up on both occasions.

Sadly, it has not heralded the change in fortune that Sakkari was hoping for, leaving the Greek with much to ponder on.

Meanwhile, Masarova advances to meet Anna Karolina Schmiedlova from Slovakia, who got past Ukrainian Kateryna Baindl, 6-4 3-6 6-3.


Karolina Muchova had too much firepower for Storm Hunter, winning her 1st-round match with a bagel on Day One of the 2023 US Open

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Fourth seed Elena Rybakina, last year’s Wimbledon champion, had no such trouble, the Kazakh dispatching Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk, 6-2 6-1, on the Grandstand, while Victoria Azarenka, the 18th seed from Belarus, was among the first to book her place in the 2nd-round, swatting aside French wild-card Fiona Ferro, 6-1 6-2, in early play on Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Out on Court 12, 10th-seeded Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic also made it safely through, blowing away Australia’s Storm Hunter, 6-4 6-0.

On an overcast day, the Roland Garros and Cincinnati finalist maintained her recent momentum, powering through the Australian wild-card to be the main draw’s first winner of the day.

The first set proved to be more challenging for Muchova than expected, considering the gap of more than 140 places between the two in the WTA rankings.

Hunter showed few nerves against the hard-hitting Muchova, and, as the Czech quickly made an early 2-0 lead, the Aussie found her rhythm and lefty slice serve, jamming her on her returns, and keeping up with the power exchanges to win 2 straight games herself.

It looked as if Hunter was looking for a good scrap, but, ultimately, Muchova stayed solid, steadying after breaking serve for a 3rd time, and held her service game to close the opener.

From 4-4 in the first set, the Czech won 8 straight games to sail through to the 2nd-round in 65 minutes.

Her success this year at Roland Garros and Cincinnati, losing in both finals, against Swiatek and World No 7 Coco Gauff, has taken her to No 10 in the rankings and proves her to be a steady force on the WTA Tour.

“I’m not really thinking about [the other players],” she said after beating Hunter. “I’m just playing match-by-match, and I think the game that we built, with my team, and our strategy, is getting me where I want to be.”

Muchova lines up to meet Poland’s Magdalena Frech next, who eventually outgunned America’s Emma Navarro, 7-6(10) 1-6 6-1.


Beatriz Haddad Maia got past 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens in 3 sets on Monday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Elsewhere, Brazilian Beatriz Haddad Maia proved she was no pushover, even when her back was up against a wall, as she battled past America’s 2017 champion Sloane Stephens with a 6-2 5-7 6-4 victory in her opener.

“I was expecting a big battle,” Haddad Maia said. “I knew that I had to work very hard and try to focus on my game.”

After levelling the contest to one set all, Stephens could not absorb the Brazilian’s firepower in the third set, where Haddad Maia, a Roland Garros semi-finalist, sent over 20 winners.

The No 19 seed saved 11 of 15 break points across the match as the American suffered yet another early Grand Slam exit.

While Stephens was left to reflect on a miserable year at the majors, where her best showing was a 4th-round showing at Roland Garros, Haddad Maia set up a meeting with Stephens’ compatriot Taylor Townsend, a 6-4 6-2 winner over France’s Varvara Gracheva.

There was also an early exit for Veronika Kudermetova, the 16th-seeded Russian, who went out in straight sets to another American, Bernarda Pera, 7-5 6-4, while Cleveland’s title winner, Sara Sorribes Tormo, upset Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina, the 26th seed, 6-4 7-5.

In other early Monday results, American wild-card Jennifer Brady, who has ranked as high No 13 in the world and was the 2021 Australian Open finalist, beat Australia’s Kimberly Birrell, 6-3 7-6(4), in her first US Open appearance since 2020, having been sidelined with a knee injury; while Belinda Bencic, the Swiss 15th seed, took out Russia’s Kamila Rahkimova, 6-2 6-4; and American Danielle Collins saw off young Czech hope Linda Fruhvirtova, 6-2 6-0 with some ease.


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