NEW YORK, Aug 29 — Reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza advanced and British seventh seed Johanna Konta was ousted yesterday at the US Open as Maria Sharapova’s long-awaited return to Grand Slam tennis neared.
Spanish third seed Muguruza defeated American Varvara Lepchenko 6-0, 6-3 for her first triumph in Arthur Ashe Stadium, which celebrated its 20th anniversary on the first day of New York hardcourt matches.
Muguruza, last year’s French Open champion, can reach the US Open third round for the first time Wednesday by defeating China’s Duan Ying-Ying.
“Very happy I’m in the second round,” said Muguruza. “I’ve been here so many times and I’ve never done very well. I will try again and hopefully it will happen.”
Serbia’s 78th-ranked Aleksandra Krunic upset Australian-born Konta 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, ending her slim hopes at taking the world number one ranking at the tournament.
“I’m happy I had everything together and was able to put some serves in,” said Krunic, whose deepest Slam run was to the last 16 here in 2014.
“It’s definitely not an easy loss to take. I would have liked to have been here much longer,” Konta said. “She played consistently much better than I did.”
Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova was set to face Romania’s second-ranked Simona Halep in the night feature, the Russian’s first Grand Slam match since serving a 15-month doping ban and only her second on hardcourts.
Former world number one Sharapova is 6-0 lifetime against Halep, although she last played the 25-year-old Romanian in the 2015 WTA Finals.
“It’s going to be a big challenge, first round of a Grand Slam, to face her,” Halep said. “I feel better and I feel that I’m ready to face her again.”
Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion and last month’s Wimbledon runner-up, had not played since losing the All England final to Roger Federer due to an adductor strain.
But the Croatian fifth seed ousted 105th-ranked American Tennys Sandgren 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
“I feel just a little bit rusty,” Cilic said. “I need a few matches to get into the rhythm. It’s a matter of me getting consistency point after point and match after match and I’ll be working on that.”
Serena gives ‘great advice’
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, this year’s Australian Open and Wimbledon runner-up, outlasted Slovakia’s 135th-ranked Viktoria Kuzmova 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.
Williams won only 4-of-16 break chances in the match but denied WTA-level debutant Kuzmova’s four chances in the final set to advance.
Younger sister Serena Williams, a 23-time Slam champion on pregnancy leave, talks with Venus “only all the time” and warned her to be ready for a fight from Kuzmova.
“She gives me great advice,” said Venus.
Sharapova, whose major titles include the 2006 US Open, tested positive for the banned drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open but returned in April and was given a wildcard into the field.
Sharapova, ranked 146th, has played only one hardcourt tuneup match due to a forearm injury.
Halep has lost three times in three months with a chance to claim the world number one ranking, falling in the French Open final and Wimbledon semi-finals and to Muguruza in the Cincinnati final.
‘A dark past’ at US Open
Muguruza improved to 17-2 since the start of her London Grand Slam title run, but the 23-year-old Spaniard resists the notion she can be favored with a poor US Open history.
“Coming to US Open and having a dark past in the results, I keep it with low expectations,” Muguruza said. “I take every match as a final.”
US 10th seed John Isner blasted 22 aces in eliminating France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
Herbert won 14 points in a row at one stage, including the final 12 of the third set, but Isner took the next 10 and advanced to a second-round affair with South Korea’s Chung Hyeon.
“I was playing well out there,” Isner said. “He won the third set but I just had to have faith in what I was doing and I’m moving on.” — AFP