NEW YORK, NY, USA - No.2 seed Caroline Wozniacki opened her US Open campaign with her first match win since Wimbledon - a 6-3, 6-2 victory over the unseeded but always dangerous Samantha Stosur.
The result extends the Australian Open champion's record over Stosur to 8-5, including six of their last seven completed matches, in a clash between two of the 13 Grand Slam titlists to have graced this year's Flushing Meadows draw. Indeed, today's match was the fourth Slam first-round encounter this year between major winners following Jelena Ostapenko's defeat of Francesca Schiavone at the Australian Open, Garbiñe Muguruza's victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova at Roland Garros and Venus Williams's win over Kuznetsova here yesterday.
Both players had come into the match with question marks over their form. Wozniacki was on a three-match losing streak, having not tasted victory since her first-round triumph over Varvara Lepchenko at Wimbledon. The Dane has been beset by injuries over the North American hardcourt season: a right leg injury forced her to pull out of Washington, and her last appearance on court saw her retire with a left knee issue while trailing Kiki Bertens by a set in the second round of Cincinnati.
However, the World No.2 opened her New York account rather more brightly, weathering the ups and downs of Stosur's serving performance to seize her first break point opportunity in the third game. Pinning the 2011 US Open champion behind the baseline with heavy topspin and patiently opening up the court with canny angles, Wozniacki's shot selection was always a step ahead of her opponent's.
"I'm feeling pretty good," she assessed her physical condition. "Didn't have the ideal leadup to the tournament, but body-wise, I'm feeling great right now. It was a good test today, obviously, with the heat and then playing Sam... I feel like my body is doing good. When that feels good... I'm happy and I'm excited to play. I feel like my game is finding its way, and I feel like I'm playing pretty well."
Though Stosur initially seemed to have brought her renowned serve to play, opening the match with two booming aces, the consistency of one of her main weapons soon dissipated. A double fault paved the way to the first loss of her delivery; having worked hard to break back, three more conceded the lead again for 3-4. As the set progressed, the 2009 and 2014 US Open runner-up began to be more assertive in probing the Stosur forehand, which began to leak errors. The final game of the set encapsulated the Australian's inconsistency: a fourth ace was not enough to outweigh four forehand errors to drop serve again to go a set down.
Stosur was able to put together a handful of setpiece points that she was able to finish off with forehand rockets, but their frequency diminished as the match went on - and the World No.64 was unable to build any momentum with her best tennis. A battling hold for 2-2 in the second set over 10 minutes and six deuces, sealed with a stunning backhand winner down the line - but a series of loose errors two games later saw Stosur concede the break anyway in around a quarter of the time.
Now down 2-4, the 34-year-old blitzed two spectacular forehand winners to haul herself back to deuce and contend for the break back - but a Wozniacki service winner and another forehand error from Stosur ensured that the chance was gone as soon as it had arrived. Down 2-5, the former World No.4 offered up her worst game of the day - her seventh and eighth double faults and her 33rd and 34th unforced errors - in an unfortunate collapse.
Wozniacki, though, was happy to get back into the winning swing of things - and her reward in the second round will be a clash with Ukraine's in-form Lesia Tsurenko, who a fortnight ago upset Garbiñe Muguruza en route to the Cincinnati quarterfinals. "She's a tricky opponent," mused Wozniacki. "She's beaten some good players. She moves around well, better backhand, tries to stay aggressive with that."