NEW YORK, NY, USA - It was a near-washout on Day 2 of the US Open, with rain postponing 25 matches, but the wet conditions couldn't postpone Angelique Kerber's fate, as the 2016 champion bowed out to 19-year-old Naomi Osaka in straight sets.
Kerber became the first defending champion to lose in the first round at the US Open since Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2005 and the loss means her streak of 101 consecutive weeks in the Top 10 will come to an end on the Monday after the tournament. It's been a frustrating 12 months for the two-time major champion, who has not won a title since the 2016 US Open and has yet to notch a win over a Top 20 opponent this season.
The 29-year-old German came into New York with a slight elbow injury, but her larger problem is one that is incredibly common on tour: she's stuck in a Catch-22. Kerber has preached her need for more match-play to find her confidence and her form, but getting matches requires winning, and winning requires confidence. Now the focus turns to the final stretch through Asia and the European indoor tournaments, where a single run could set the former No.1 up for a strong start in 2018.
The Insider Team breaks down Kerber's crisis of confidence as well as the waterlogged day of play on the new episode of the WTA Insider Podcast.
Tuesday Texts from Billie Jean King
Madison Keys kicked off her US Open campaign with a hard-fought 6-3, 7-6(6) win over Belgium's Elise Mertens under the Arthur Ashe Stadium roof, and she got a nice surprise after the match when she checked her phone.
"I think the biggest thing I'm happy with was coming into the net," Keys told reporters after the win. The 22-year-old, who usually loves to keep her feet on the baseline, went 18 for 27 at the net.
"I don't think I've ever volleyed that well in my life. Billie Jean King even texted me about my volley, so I'm feeling really high on myself!"
Mertens came into the tournament in good form, having made the semifinals of the Connecticut Open last week. Keys' forehand was firing well all night, with each swing earning oohs and ahhs from the American crowd.
Not that Keys could hear those oohs and ahhs. The noise on Ashe when the roof is closed remains a conversation topic among players.
"Truly it was the loudest court I've ever played on in my life," Keys said. "I'm assuming it had to do with the roof just holding all of that noise in. It took a while to get used to it. But then it kind of just seemed -- like if it became silent all of a sudden, it probably would have felt really weird."
All the top players say, even more so in the modern game, experience matters. But don't tell that to the ambitious youngsters making their way up the rankings. As Naomi Osaka has said in the past, if you're good enough then you don't need experience. Exhibit A: 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko's French Open run as Exhibit A.
But experience is what convinced her to pull the ripcord against Pliskova in Toronto, and the experience of blowing a 5-1 lead in the second set against Keys on Arthur Ashe Stadium last as well as more frequent matches against the game's best certainly helped her on Tuesday.
"Before the match I tried to tell myself that the last Grand Slam I played, I played Venus Williams, and, I have really huge respect for Venus and Serena Williams, and I tried to tell myself I'm probably not going to get as nervous against Kerber as I did against Venus.
"So that wasn't the most reassuring thing I have ever said, but it helped me through."
"The experience last year helped me this year, so, experience helps me, but I know there are other people that don't need experience. Moving forward, I feel like I know that I can play with the top players now, so I don't have to be as nervous as I was today."
Jelena Ostapenko rolls under the roof
The reigning Roland Garros champion snapped her three-match losing streak, beating Lara Arruabarrena in a very Ostopenkian scoreline of 6-2, 1-6, 6-1 in her first round. Ostapenko and Arruabarrena began their match on Court 17 but were moved onto Ashe at the conclusion of Rafael Nadal's first round match. Ostapenko couldn't have been happier.
"The first set I played really well," Ostapenko said. "The second set I stepped back a little bit. She played well. Then we had to wait, not the whole day, but a couple of hours to see if we have to play or not. Then I didn't really know what to do, should I warm up or should I go back to hotel?
"Then when Rafa finished the match -- he had to finish before 5:15pm -- we went on court and played a match. I'm really happy that I could have a chance to play on a big court."
How happy was Ostapenko? She won 12 of the 14 points played under the roof. Game, set, match.
"I think the roof is an advantage for me because the court is kind of faster. So, yeah, I finished great those three games."
Davenport d. Clijsters, 6-3, 7-6(6).
As the night session on Ashe kicked off, there was a rare but welcome sight in the players' boxes: Lindsay Davenport and Kim Clijsters. Davenport is, of course, coaching Madison Keys, while Clijsters was courtside supporting her compatriot Mertens, who has trained at her academy in Bree.
"I think it's funny there are two former champions [in our boxes]," said Keys. "But I think it's also really fun. Two young players having former champions in their corner. I don't think you see that very often."
In their playing days, Clijsters held the narrow edge in her head-to-head with Davenport, leading 9-8. So can we call it even now?
Karolina Pliskova puts on her commentator hat.
The World No.1 eased into the second round with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Magda Linette and she was much relieved to be one of the seven women to get their matches done on Tuesday. "I have not been really lucky with the weather for last two tournaments, Toronto and Cincinnati," Pliskova said with a laugh. "Just happy that I got today the match done quickly and don't have to wait, because the weather is not looking great today. It's always a big help if you can leave fast from the club."
Asked if she spent any of her Monday evening watching the blockbuster opener between Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep, Pliskova weighed in.
"I think they played really, really good, even Simona, just unfortunate draw for her. I think was one of the best matches what I saw so far on the hard courts for those few weeks what we play.
"I was just surprised how Maria, she was kind of fit and I was expecting maybe a little bit in the third set she would go down, but she was playing even better in the third set. I think Simona didn't do anything wrong but, yeah, Maria was just playing well."
Hat tip, David Taylor
With her upset win over No.6 seed Kerber, Osaka has paved a very workable path for herself in the draw. There's work to be done, but her coach David Taylor deserves a good amount of credit for her top-notch performance on Wednesday.
Two and a half weeks ago, Osaka was playing in the Round of 16 at the Rogers Cup, and had just forced a deciding set against World No.1 Pliskova. During the set-break she told Taylor she had begun to feel some pain in her previously injured ab muscle but wanted to push through to see if she could score the big upset. Taylor calmly and smartly talked her off the idea, urging her to think about the long-game, rather than greedily sacrifice what could have been the rest of her season for the chance at the win.
"Having to withdraw really hurt my feelings, especially since I was playing the No. 1, and I felt like I was doing really well. But, again, I didn't want to do the same thing I did against Konta in Germany and, like, overplay and not even be able to get in the situation to win the match.
"So I guess retiring, I went back home and I trained for two weeks and I did a lot of fitness and stuff, and I feel like that really helped playing against her, because she's a really solid player."
It was a tough decision and one that could put her into the second week of the US Open for the first time.
Stat of the Day
No.6 Kerber is the highest ranked opponent defeated by a Japanese player since 2006 Roland Garros, when Akiko Morigami defeated then No.3 ranked Nadia Petrova in the first round.
Quote of the Day: Take it away, Madison...
Q. Did you ask the chair umpire to try to get the crowd quieter at some point in the second set?
MADISON KEYS: At somepoint I yelled because I said I thought there was a let.
She said, 'No, I didn't hear it.'
I was like, 'You can't hear anything [in here], so I don't know what you're talking about.'
She was like, 'No, no, but I can hear [a let].'
I'm just like, 'That's great hearing by you then because I can't hear myself think.'