Top seeds fall in Tokyo on day of shocks

Thursday, Sep 22, 2022

TOKYO: Top seed Paula Badosa joined US Open semi-finalist Caroline Garcia and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in making shock early exits from the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo on Wednesday.

World number four Badosa lost 6-3, 6-2 to fast-rising Chinese teenager Zheng Qinwen, failing to hit a single ace and losing seven straight games.

Badosa, who had a bye into the second round, compounded a miserable evening in the Japanese capital by swatting a return straight into the ground on match point.

The 19-year-old Zheng, who reached the last 32 at the US Open, said her win over Badosa was “a big jump” after beginning the year ranked number 126 in the world.

“There was a lot of emotion there on court – even though the score was like this, it wasn’t an easy win,” said Zheng, who will play American Claire Liu in the quarter-finals.

“I always know that I have the level to be here – it’s just that I have to show up on court in the tournament.”

Number two seed Garcia put up a fight but still crashed out in her first match, squandering a match point to be ousted 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/5) by China’s Zhang Shuai.

France’s Garcia has been in red-hot form, winning the Cincinnati Masters last month before reaching her first Grand Slam semi-final at Flushing Meadows two weeks ago.

But she came up short against world number 28 Zhang in Tokyo despite hitting 27 aces -- the best on the WTA tour this year -- and holding a match point at 5-4 in the second set.

Zhang fought back to level the match via a tiebreak before munching on a sandwich during the changeover.

It seemed to energise Zhang as she outlasted Garcia in the final set, taking it on her second match point when the Frenchwoman hit long after two hours and 30 minutes. “It was not the best tennis I can play but I really tried hard and kept fighting,” said Garcia. “She just got better at the end and it was a few points here and there.”

Zhang will now face either sixth seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic or Croatia’s Petra Martic in the quarter-finals.

Kazakhstan’s Rybakina lost 6-2, 6-4 to Russia’s Liudmila Samsonova just one day after arriving in Tokyo as a late wild card.

Rybakina, who was drafted in when countrywoman Yulia Putintseva tested positive for Covid, said her hectic schedule had been “very tough”.

“I felt that if I stayed here for maybe a few more days it would be much better, especially as I was closer in the second set so I started to play better and better,” she said.

“But I just came from another tournament and I played a lot, so it was a question of it being not easy physically.”

Number three seed Garbine Muguruza advanced with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Greek qualifier Despina Papamichail.

The two-time Grand Slam champion said she wanted to end a “roller-coaster” season with “a different feeling”, and will face Samsonova or Xinyu Wang in the quarter-finals.

“I think also trying and trying and trying, at some point I will get rewarded,” said former world number one Muguruza.

Japan’s Naomi Osaka will return to action on Thursday when she faces Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia in the second round.

Osaka advanced when her first-round opponent, Australia’s Daria Saville, retired after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in her knee just seven minutes into their match on Tuesday.