Naomi Osaka’s US Open build-up suffered another setback as the former world number one was edged out by China’s Zhang Shuai 6-4 7-5 and American Coco Gauff retired with an ankle injury in the first round of the Cincinnati Open on Tuesday .
It was only Osaka’s third tournament back from an Achilles injury and it was a sad return to action for the two-time US Open champion, who also crashed out in the first round in Toronto last week, withdrawing with lower back pain.
For Zhang, last year’s Cincinnati doubles champion, it was her first singles win since 2014.
“Naomi, she’s wonderful, but I don’t know, maybe she’s not feeling very well today,” Zhang said. “But probably today is not the best today.”
In the first match on Center Court, Japan’s Osaka started the contest with a commanding lead, making a double fault to give Zhang a break on her opening serve.
That was all the help Zhang needed as she took the first set against the 33-year-old Chinese before quickly winning the second with an early break to take a 2-1 lead as Osaka continued to misfire.
With Zhang serving for the match at 5-4, Osaka finally secured the elusive break and leveled the set, only for her opponent to immediately break back and regain control.
Serving for the second time in the match, Zhang didn’t waste the opportunity again, winning with an ace.
Osaka won her serve with 10 aces but no more as the four-time Grand Slam winner committed 29 unforced errors and converted just one of four break chances.
Zhang then meets Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova, who won 6-4 7-5 against 13th seed Leila Fernandez of Canada, who lost to last year’s US Open finalist.
Teenager Gauff twisted her left ankle late in the first set in her match against qualifier Maria Buzkova and eventually retired from the match trailing 7-5 1-0.
The newly minted world number one in doubles will be looking to recover ahead of the US Open, where she hopes to challenge for a maiden Grand Slam title. This year’s major at Flushing Meadows begins on August 29th.
Romania’s Sorana Kirstea beat Swiss Olympic champion and 12th seed Belinda Bencic 6-2 6-7(3) 6-4, while 14th seed Karolina Pliskova beat Venus Williams 7-5 6-1.
The match marked the Williams sisters’ first doubleheader in Cincinnati.
Serena Williams, who announced her retirement after the US Open last week, will take center court later on Tuesday when the 23-time Grand Slam winner takes on reigning Flushing Meadows champion Emma Raducana in an intriguing first-round clash.
Venus Williams, seeking her first win over a top-20 opponent since defeating Kiki Bertens in Cincinnati three years ago, sent a half-full Center Court into a frenzy when she broke Pliskova to go 3-2 up.
However, the Czech got back to level at 4-4 and broke again to win the first set.
The 42-year-old Williams ran out of steam and ideas in a one-sided second set as Pliskova beat the seven-time Grand Slam winner at the first opportunity en route to a 3-0 lead.
Williams held serve at 3-1, but Pliskova, the 2016 Cincinnati champion, won the next three games to complete the rout.