Coco Gauff and Sofia Kenin, the two highest-ranked Americans, were the first two women’s seeds defeated on the opening day of the Australian Open, a tournament rocked by Novak Djokovic‘s deportation.
The 18th seed Gauff, the only player in the WTA top 200 younger than 18, fell to Chinese Wang Qiang 6-4, 6-2. She made 38 unforced errors to 15 winners.
“It’s just learning when do I play my best tennis, and today wasn’t the best tennis,” Gauff said of her first opening round defeat in a major since the 2020 U.S. Open.
Kenin, the 2020 Australian Open champion, was taken out by American veteran Madison Keys 7-6 (2), 7-5. Kenin, seeded 11th, will fall out of the top 50.
“It’s not easy, but it’s just a number. It doesn’t change who I am. I’m still that person who everyone respects very much,” Kenin said of her WTA ranking status. “Obviously, it’s not the best news. … But I don’t have a doubt I can get back there.”
Last season was difficult for her: She was off the tour for the second half of the year because of a foot injury and a bout with COVID-19.
Keys, once a top-10 player, fell to No. 87 before winning her first WTA title in two years last week.
Elsewhere, the first test of Naomi Osaka’s new approach to tennis might have been when she completely whiffed an overhead to give her opponent a break point on Day 1 of the no-Djokovic Australian Open.
Osaka didn’t chuck her racket. She didn’t roll her eyes. She smiled.
“There are situations where I previously would get upset. But at this point in my life, like, I’m here because I want to be here and because I find that it’s fun for me,” Osaka said. “Might as well enjoy it while I still can.”
In Osaka’s mind, the drama involving nine-time champion Djokovic’s deportation was something for the players in the men’s draw to worry about. Her title defense began smoothly enough: She won the first five games on the way to a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Camila Osorio on the main court.
With so much attention on the 11-day saga of Djokovic’s attempt to participate in the year’s first Grand Slam tournament, and bid for a fourth consecutive title at Melbourne Park, the returns of Osaka and Rafael Nadal have been overshadowed.
Osaka wasn’t bothered by that. Nadal didn’t seem to be put off by it, either, renewing his bid for a record 21st Grand Slam singles title with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 win over Marcos Giron.
“Growing up, I’ve looked up to him,” said Giron, a 28-year-old from the U.S. “He’s one of the absolute legends of the game.”
Nadal is tied with Djokovic and Roger Federer with 20 major singles titles each, the most in the history of men’s tennis. With Djokovic unable to defend his crown in Melbourne because he didn’t meet Australia’s strict COVID-19 vaccination criteria, the door is slightly more ajar to Nadal.
Osaka’s main concern, meanwhile, is winning a fifth major title, and her third at the Australian Open.
“To be completely honest, it didn’t really affect me,” Osaka said about what went on with Djokovic. “My goal, like even before this whole situation, is to just focus on myself more, what I need to do to become better.
“Me, I’m a tennis player. I’ll focus on my matches. You as, I guess, an audience, focus on whatever is in the news, no?”
A potential fourth-round meeting with top-ranked Ash Barty could be waiting. Barty, aiming to be the first Australian woman to win the title here since 1978, started with a 6-0, 6-1 win over Lesia Tsurenko.
After winning here last year, capturing her second Australian Open title in three years, Osaka pulled out of the 2021 French Open before the second round, then sat out Wimbledon. She played at the Tokyo Olympics, where she lit the cauldron, but ended her 2021 season early after a third-round loss and a teary news conference at the U.S. Open.
Two of her goals for 2022, she said last week, were to stay completely composed on the court and off, and to enjoy the game.
And, yes, finally, the focus was on tennis in Australia. And it got started in a big way, with a combined 64 matches scheduled on Day 1 in the men’s and women’s singles.
French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, fifth-seeded Maria Sakkari, No. 15 Elina Svitolina and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka all advanced.
No. 9 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia withdrew with a back injury before her first-round match.
On the men’s side, American Sebastian Korda scored the biggest early upset, knocking out No. 12 seed Cameron Norrie of Australia 6-3, 6-0, 6-4.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!Follow @nbcolympictalk