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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, August 29, 2017

 
Naomi Osaka

World No. 45 Naomi Osaka crushed defending US Open champion Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 6-1, in a 65-minute thrashing.

Photo credit: @USOpen

The roof was closed and the walls were closing in on Angelique Kerber.

Midway through the second set, 19-year-old Naomi Osaka stepped inside the baseline and ripped a backhand return with such disdain Kerber could only shake her head as the ball blurred by splotching a yellow streak inside the sideline. 

Watch: US Open Daily Social Media Mash

Osaka struck with jolting force winning nine of the last 10 games dismissing defending US Open champion Kerber, 6-3, 6-1, in a 65-minute thrashing on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The former world No. 1 is the first defending champion to fall in the US Open first round since 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova lost in her 2005 opener to Ekaterina Bychkova.

On a dreary day outside a grim Kerber had no answer beneath the closed retracable roof, which created ideal serving conditions for her explosive teenage opponent.

"I think it was not my day, completely not my day today," Kerber said. "Of course matches are always different that practices.

"Of course it's not the result (I wanted) and I'm sad."




A year after Osaka shrank on the game’s largest Grand Slam stage blowing a 5-1 third-set lead in an electric, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (3)  loss to Madison Keys, she kept calm and finished the job today.

“It means a lot especially since the last time I was here this court hasn’t really been a (place of) fond memory,” Osaka told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi afterward. “But now I think I overlapped that.”

It was the 45th-ranked Osaka’s first Top 10 victory in 10 attempts and she delivered it with authoritative ease crunching 22 winners compared to nine for Kerber.

Osaka said facing Venus Williams in Wimbledon prepared her for facing Kerber in New York.

"Before the match I tried to tell myself that the last Grand Slam I played, I played Venus, and, like, I have really huge respect for Venus and Serena, and I tried to tell myself I'm probably not going to get as nervous against Kerber as I did against Venus," Osaka said. "So that wasn't the most reassuring thing I have ever said, but, I mean, it helped me through, but when I stepped on the court and I heard all the people and I saw how big the stadium was, I got a little bit freaked out, but I tried to hold it in."

The serve set the tone. Osaka permitted just six points on her first serve and denied all four break points she faced.

Lacking the sting in her shots and the bounce in her step she showed charging to her third major final of the season at the 2016 US Open, Kerber spent the second set looking as forlorn as a stranded tourist as cars buzzed by on the Grand Central Parkway.

Eight women arrived in New York with a chance to win the Open and ascend to world No. 1 and now three of those contenders—former No. 1 Kerber, world No. 2 Simona Halep and seventh-seeded Johanna Konta—are done by day two.

Three problems plagued Kerber, who spiraled lthrough the final set-and-a-half:

1. Lack of conviction in her shots.
2. Lack of depth with her second serve.
3. Lack of an answer for an explosive opponent blasting the ball into the corners.

The ability to straddle the baseline and fire her forehand down the line helped power Kerber to two Grand Slam titles last year. This year, shie too often pushes that shot rather than ripping it with ambition. The result is an 0-9 record vs. Top 20 opponents. 

Osaka plastered a backhand crosscourt breaking for 4-1 in a shot that spooked a brief burst of dreaded déjà vu.

“More like when it was 4-1 I was walking here thinking I really hope I don’t do what I did last year,” Osaka said. “I was really calm today. So I’m happy about that.”

Osaka fans should be happy wtih her draw, too. Residing in the second quarter, Osaka has room to make a move. She will play either Denisa Allertova or 196th-ranked Rebecca Peterson in the second round. 


 

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