Upsets rule the day at Shenzhen Open

Swiss top seed Belinda Bencic and Belarusian defending champion Aryna Sabalenka were both knocked out on a day of upsets at the Shenzhen Open yesterday.

Russia’s Anna Blinkova claimed the first top-10 win of her career when she came from behind to beat Bencic 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round in Shenzhen, south China’s Guangdong Province, while Sabalenka was beaten 4-6, 4-6 by Czech Kristyna Pliskova in the last-16.

Blinkova started poorly against world No. 8 Bencic and was broken three times in the opening set. But she never dropped her serve thereafter, firing 12 aces and breaking Bencic five times to advance to the second round.

“It was a great performance from me today,” Blinkova said. “I prepared very carefully and I’m happy that I played good tennis. I was thinking to just fight for every point.”

The Russian will next face Zarina Diyas in the second round. The Kazakh defeated wildcard entry Duan Yingying of China 6-3, 6-4.

Second seed Sabalenka had 11 break points in the match, including nine in the second set, but could not convert even one as a dogged Pliskova served well under intense pressure.

“She’s playing so fast so I had to be ready from the first point,” Pliskova said. “My serve was there, which is always important, so I’m happy that I won.

“I reached the quarterfinals here two years ago, so I’m happy to be back there and looking to see if I can do more.”

It was not a good day for the Chinese either, with Wang Xiyu falling 4-6, 3-6 to third seed Elise Mertens of Belgium in the last-16 while eighth seed Zhang Shuai was beaten 6-7 (10), 3-6 by Ukraine’s Kateryna Bondarenko, who will take on Pliskova.

In Brisbane, Queensland, two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka began her 2020 season with a 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-3 victory over Maria Sakkari in the opening round of the Brisbane International yesterday.

Osaka fired 16 aces and broke her Greek opponent four times in the 2-hour, 7-minute encounter, but struggled in the second set tiebreak when Sakkari won five points in a row before squaring the match on an unforced error from the Japanese.

The pair traded breaks in the opening stages of the final set before former world No. 1 Osaka clinched victory, despite double faulting on her first match point.

Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens, 24th in the WTA rankings, fell at the first hurdle to Liudmila Samsonova, who is ranked more than 100 places below her. The 129th ranked Russian won 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

Samsonova next faces former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, the Czech overcoming a slow start and reeling off 12 of the last 13 games to down another Russian in Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 2-6, 6-1, 6-0.

Wildcard Maria Sharapova, playing her first match since losing in the first round of last year’s US Open, was beaten 6-3, 1-6, 6-7 (3) by Jennifer Brady.

Kazakhstan beat Croatia’s Donna Vekic 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 and Estonian Anett Kontaveit overpowered Chinese Taipei’s Hsieh Su-wei 6-4, 6-1.

In Auckland, New Zealand, top seed Serena Williams kick-started her Auckland Classic singles campaign with an easy 6-3, 6-2 victory over Italian qualifier Camila Giorgi yesterday.

Playing her first singles match since losing last year’s US Open final to Canadian Bianca Andreescu, the 38-year-old Williams fired eight aces and was hardly troubled by Giorgi.

Williams, who advanced to the doubles quarterfinals with Caroline Wozniacki on Monday, is on course to face 15-year-old compatriot Coco Gauff in the quarterfinals should both advance.

Fifth seed Wozniacki, who is set to retire after this month’s Australian Open, outclassed local wildcard Paige Hourigan 6-1, 6-0.

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