Dubai: Naomi Osaka’s reign as the new World No 1 took off on a wrong note when the error-prone Japanese caved in 3-6, 3-6 to Dubai-based Kristina Mladenovic at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday, while former champions Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep joined two-time defending champion Elina Svitolina in the next round.
Playing in her first match after claiming her second back-to-back Grand Slam, the 66-minute encounter saw the 21-year-old from Japan commit 25 unforced errors compared to the nine made by Mladenovic.
Struggling to hold serve early, the 21-year-old was soon 0-3 in arrears with Mladenovic pushing through ruthlessly with her shot-making.
Osaka did give herself a glimpse of hope when she broke back in the fourth and held to trail 2-3. But she continued to struggle with court conditions and her gutsy French opponent as a crucial double fault resulted in a second break and Mladenovic took the opener 6-3 in 34 minutes.
Egged on by a modest crowd, things didn’t get better for Osaka in the second either as she continued with her string of unforced errors. Eventually, and as expected, it was Mladenovic to break first for a 2-0 cushion.
But, Osaka hung in and broke back, only to see her serve let her down yet again. After a couple of exchanged breaks, it was Mladenovic who was left to savour a sweet yet stunning victory — her first against a world number one — in just 66 minutes.
Winner of just one WTA singles title, Mladenovic’s best came on October 23, 2017 when she attained a career high of No 10 on the WTA singles rankings.
Much of her success has been as a doubles player where she has gone on to claim the 2013 Wimbledon and 2014 Australian Open mixed doubles in the company of Daniel Nestor. She combined with countrywoman Caroline Garcia for the 2016 French Open crown and then took her fourth title winning alongside Timea Babos at the 2018 Australian Open.
“This is simply such an inspiring experience for me tonight,” the 25-year-old Mladenovic blushed on court.
“This is my home. I live here and the crowd kept me going. And even when my first serve didn’t go well I didn’t have any pressure on the second serve and I came through,” she added.
With all top-eight players in action on a perfect day for tennis, World No 2 Kvitova took her time against fellow Czech Katerina Siniakova before winning 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4 in more than two and a half hours, while 2017 and 2018 champion Svitolina was leading 7-6, 4-0 against Ons Jabeur when the Tunisian retired with an aggravated right shoulder injury.
Champion here in 2013, Kvitova struggled early, at times her shots flying wide off. Down 1-3 in the first set, the second seed did well to break back and draw level at 5-5. But then once again she lost her focus at crucial times in the tie-break to lose 7-3.
In other matches, former French Open and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza defeated Saisai Zheng 7-5, 6-2, but there were two major casualties as 2018 runner-up Daria Kasatkina went down 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 to American Sofia Kenin and seventh seed Kiki Bertens lost 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 to Viktoria Kuzmova after holding a match point at 6-5 in the tie-break.
Another American going through was qualifier Jennifer Brady with a 6-4, 7-5 win over 14th seed Caroline Garcia of France.
(Singles) Petra Kvitova bt Katerina Siniakova 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4; Elina Svitolina bt Ons Jabeur 7-6 (3), 4-0 (Retd.); Viktoria Kuzmova bt Kiki Bertens 6-2, 4-6, 7-6; Su-Wei Hsieh bt Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-1, 6-2; Sofia Kenin bt Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 2-6, 6-4; Garbine Muguruza bt Saisai Zheng 7-5, 6-2; Simona Halep bt Eugenie Bouchard 7-6, 6-4; Alison Riske bt Alize Cornet 6-3, 6-2; Jennifer Brady bt Caroline Garcia 6-4, 7-5; Carla Suarez Navarro bt Shuai Zhang 6-4, 6-4; Belinda Bencic bt Stefanie Voegele 6-1, 6-1;
Lesia Tsurenko bt Lin Zhu 6-4, 6-7, 6-3; Angelique Kerber vs Dalila Jakupovic 7-6 (4), 6-3; Kristina Mladenovic bt Naomi Osaka 6-3, 6-3; Aryna Sabalenka bt Ivana Jorovic 6-4, 6-0.
(Doubles) Darija Jurak/Raluca Olaru bt Nicole Melichar/Kveta Peschke 7-6, 7-6; Gabriela Dabrowski/Yifan Xu bt Sarah Beth Grey/Eden Silva 6-1, 6-3; Su-Wei Hsieh/Barbora Strycova bt Miyu Kato/Makoto Ninomiya 6-3, 6-2.
ORDER OF PLAY (Wednesday)
Centre Court (Start at 11am) Jennifer Brady vs Petra Kvitova; Simona Halep vs Lesia Tsurenko; Kristina Mladenovic vs Carla Suarez Navarro; Alison Riske vs Dominika Cibulkova OR Karolina Pliskova. (Not before 7pm) Garbine Muguruza vs Elina Svitolina; Belinda Bencic vs Aryna Sabalenka.
Court 1 (Start at 12 noon) Viktoria Kuzmova vs Sofia Kenin; Angelique Kerber vs Su-Wei Hsieh; Hao-Ching Chan/Latisha Chan vs Viktoria Kuzmova/Ajla Tomljanovic; Anna-Lena Groenefeld/Demi Schuurs vs Irina Bara/Dalila Jakupovic.
Court 3 (Start at 2pm) Eugenie Bouchard/Sofia Kenin vs Jelena Ostapenko/Katerina Siniakova; Timea Babos/Kristina Mladenovic vs Lara Arruabarrena/Kaitlyn Christian.