MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - The talk of the town on Day 1 of the Australian Open was the quick and sudden whittling of the American contingent in the bottom half of the draw. Ten Americans were in action on Monday, and when the last match was in the books it was No.113 Nicole Gibbs, who was the last direct entry into the main draw, who made it through to the second round.
The top three Americans - No.5 Venus Williams, No.10 CoCo Vandeweghe, and No.13 Sloane Stephens - bowed out early. When the draw came out, two of the toughest first-round draws were handed to Venus, who faced resurgent former Top 10 star Belinda Bencic, and to Stephens, who came up against 2016 quarterfinalist Zhang Shuai. Venus played a strong match but could not overcome the confident and hungry Bencic, who is storming back up the rankings after wrist surgery last spring.
"I don't think I played a bad match," Venus said. "She just played above and beyond. I just have to give her credit for that."
Stephens served for her match against Zhang only to be broken to 5-5 in the second set, and went on to lose 2-6, 7-6(2), 6-2. The loss extended Stephens' post-US Open losing streak to six matches.
"Even though I lost, I'm not too sad," Stephens said. "Everything is good. Relax, everybody. It will be okay. Don't worry. We will get back to having fun soon. Just give me a little bit to regroup and we will be okay." Stephens will skip the Middle East swing in February and plans to return to action in Acapulco.
Vandeweghe, a semifinalist last and a legitimate dark horse pick for the title, bowed out 7-6(4), 6-2 to Timea Babos, who registered her first Top 10 win in 17 tries. After the match, Vandeweghe revealed she had been dealing with the flu and had not hit a ball for four days.
"This is the first time I've been out of bed really, in four days," Vandeweghe said. "I did the best I could with what I had today and that's all I can ask for. She played really well and I tried my best and just a bit unlucky today."
American Results on Day 1:
Belinda Bencic d.  Venus Williams, 6-3, 7-5
Zhang Shuai d.  Sloane Stephens, 2-6, 7-6(2), 6-2)
Timea Babos d.  CoCo Vandeweghe, 7-6(4), 6-2
Kirsten Flipkens d. Alison Riske, 2-6, 7-6(6), 6-3
Magda Linette d. Jennifer Brady, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3
 Kiki Bertens d. CiCi Bellis, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-2
 Julia Goerges d. Sofia Kenin, 6-4, 6-4
 Magdalena Rybarikova d. Taylor Townsend, 6-0, 7-5
 Daria Gavrilova d. Irina Falconi, 6-1, 6-1
Nicole Gibbs d. Viktoriya Tomova, 6-1, 6-1
Timea's Time to Shine
When you take a step back, it's a stunning stat: heading into today's match against No.10 Vandeweghe, No.51 Babos, who reached a career-high of No.25 in 2016, was 0-16 against Top 10 opposition. For a player as talented and skilled as the 24-year-old Hungarian, it was a streak that made you do a double-take.
On Monday, Babos finally seized her moment against a compromised Vandeweghe, who despite her illness played effective tennis that forced Babos to keep coming up with answers.
"I have played a lot of matches against Top 10 players or players 11, 12, 13, and I think I was always very close but I didn't take the opportunity at the right time," Babos said. "Today I really felt that every moment that was key I took it, I went for it, I was really aggressive, and I made the right decisions, and I think this was the key when playing the best. I'm just happy with how I played the big moments."
Babos' focus was repeatedly tested in the match, as Vandeweghe's frustration mounted and resulted in two code violations - one for time delay and one for unsportsmanlike conduct - that could have left her rattled.
"I don't even know what happened," Babos said. "She always does that. A couple of racquets are broken in every match. This time it was a time violation but I'm not sure. The second one was I think an insult against me. I didn't hear it but if the umpire heard it, it must be this. I just tried to stay focused and not to buy all the big things that were happening around and just to stay in the match."
Vandeweghe told reporters she thought Babos was being too aggressive with her exaltations during the match. "I felt like she was being quite in your face with her come-ons and so I was just explaining it to the umpire because I felt justified in doing that," Vandeweghe said.
"If she would have looked at my matches I'm always like this," Babos said. "It's never to my opponent, it was never to her face, it was to my box. If it was an incredible point it was to the crowd.
"At the beginning of the second set we had a few points in a row that were unreal. It was like a show. Of course I was winning them so I was happy, but it wasn't against her. I'm crazy on court but not in a negative way."
Babos faces Carla Suárez Navarro in the second round.
Video of the Day
Here's a pro tip - never miss an on-court interview with Daria Gavrilova at the Australian Open.
Jelena Ostapenko: The Hunted
The French Open champion earned her first win of 2018, a 6-1, 6-4 win over 2010 Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone. Ostapenko had lost her first two matches of the season in straight sets in Shenzhen (l. Kr. Pliskova) and Sydney (l. Makarova). It was a solid performance from the 20-year-old, who has already proven that she can shoulder the load of being a top-level scalp.
"I mean, of course it's tough, especially after winning at the age of 20," Ostapenko said when asked about the pressure of being a new Slam champion. "Everybody wants to beat you. You have to prepare very well for every match. But on the other side, I have nothing to lose. I already won the Grand Slam. I just enjoy every match and show my best."
Tweet of the Day
Bottom-Half Favorites Ease Through
No.2 Caroline Wozniacki and No.4 Elina Svitolina showed no signs of slowing down in their easy first-round wins. Wozniacki beat Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2, 6-3 and will face Croatia's Jana Fett in the second round. Brisbane champion Svitolina kept her 2018 clean sheet going, tallying her sixth straight win of the season by defeating Ivana Jorovic 6-3, 6-2. Svitolina's win sets up a big second-round match against Shenzhen finalist Katerina Siniakova.
Stat of the Day
15-year-old Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine is the youngest player to win a main draw match at the Australian Open since Martina Hingis in 1996.
Odds and Ends
Armed with an improved serve and forehand, Belinda Bencic is playing better tennis than she was when she made her Top 10 debut.... Six out of 16 seeds fell on Day 1.... Julia Goerges, who already leads the tour with 43 aces in 2018, fired 14 aces in her straight-set win over Sofia Kenin - watch out, Karolina Pliskova.... Sloane Stephens and Alison Riske both served for the win, only to lose in three sets.... Monica Puig saved match point to hand Sam Stosur her third consecutive loss in Melbourne.... Julia Goerges, Angelique Kerber, and Elina Svitolina will not play their respective countries' first-round Fed Cup ties.... Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova rallied from 0-3 down in the decider to win six straight games against Kateryna Kozlova.... Kaia Kanepi continues to be a danger, this time mowing down No.24 seed Dominika Cibulkova.
Quote of the Day: Take it away, Sloane....
Q. What did you think life would be like after winning a slam?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I hoped that nothing would happen. I hoped I wouldn't have to do any work, I wouldn't have to go anywhere. Like, I thought it was going to be basic. But, boy, was I wrong.
Yeah, it's been quite the experience, but I think that when you do something great like that, a lot is expected of you. Whether I wanted that or not, that's what comes with the territory. I don't regret it.
I just think there are roller coasters and you go through ups and downs in periods of your career that things like this happen. But winning the US Open was the best thing that happened in my tennis career.