Kuznetsova crashes out of US open

Defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova saw her reign brought to a crushing end on the opening day of the US Open at Flushing Meadows but top seed Maria Sharapova had an easy passage into the second round.

Defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova saw her reign brought to a crushing end on the opening day of the US Open at Flushing Meadows but top seed Maria Sharapova had an easy passage into the second round.

Fifth seed Kuznetsova was stunned 6-3 6-2 by fellow Russian Ekaterina Bychkova at Armstrong Stadium, just 65 minutes into her title defence, capping a miserable year on court.

Kuznetsova – the first defending women’s champion to lose in the first round of the US Open – has failed to go beyond the quarter-finals in the grand slam tournaments this year.

“Of course I’m disappointed to lose that match but things happen like this,” said Kuznetsova. “It’s happened to many top players, losing the first match. It happened to me. I try to stay strong and take positive things out of this but I know I was not at my best.”

Sharapova had no problems and cruised through the opening round with a 6-1 6-1 victory over Eleni Daniilidou of Greece.

Daniilidou, who knocked out French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne in the first round at Wimbledon, had three chances to break Sharapova’s opening serve but failed to take advantage in a 42-minute first set.

The 18-year-old Russian dominated the rest of the match, defeating Daniilidou for the third time this year.

“The first few games were a little bit tough,” Sharapova said. “I didn’t let that bother me. I felt like I was in control.”

And there was no upset for Serena Williams, who made it through to the second round despite a frustrating encounter against qualifier Yung-Ja Chan of Chinese Taipei.

Williams, the 1999 and 2002 champion here, beat the 16-year-old 6-1 6-3 in the opening match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The American stormed through the opening set in 29 minutes, only to falter in the second as Chan forced the eighth seed to dig deeper into her reserves than she would have liked in the opening round.

Williams’ fluency and intensity deserted her as the second set got underway and exposed her lack of match sharpness after an inconsistent year.

And when Chan, ranked 261st in the world, showed a glimmer of resistance, questions regarding Williams’ fitness returned.

“I didn’t get tired at all, I think I just started out flat,” Williams insisted. “Maybe I was thinking about something else. I just was really flat. I knew it. I was like, ’Serena, get more pep in your step.”’

Williams did just that, recovering from 3-1 down in the second to take the next five games and close out the match.

The victory, laboured as it was in the end, keeps Williams on track for a possible fourth-round showdown with sister Venus Williams, seeded 10th, in the final grand slam of 2005.

“I was really, really upset (when I saw the draw),” Serena said.

“But I realise I have to focus on my first round and hopefully I’ll get there and beyond. The only way to think about it is to just play to get there, don’t go out before. There’s nothing else I can do except get back to (number) one and two in the world.”

Next up for Serena is Catalina Costano of Colombia, ranked 69th in the world, who won her first-round match with Russia’s Alina Jidkova 6-4 6-3.

Venus Williams cruised into the second round with a 6-3 6-1 triumph over Rika Fujiwara of Japan.

Should the Williams sisters meet in the fourth round, fourth seed Kim Clijsters could represent a significant obstacle in the quarter-finals.

The Belgian, in blistering form in North America this summer, raced into the second round with a 6-1 6-2 demolition of Germany’s Martina Muller in 52 minutes.

In other women’s action, 2004 US Open quarter-finalist Nadia Petrova justified her ninth seeding with a 6-4 6-4 victory over Eva Birnerova of the Czech Republic, but 30th seed Ai Sugiyama of Japan had to work a little harder, losing the first set to Ukraine’s Alyona Bondarenko before recovering to win 5-7 6-4 6-3.

Also safely through on the opening day were 18th-seeded Serbian Ana Ivanovic, who overcame American Lindsay Lee-Waters 7-6 6-3, 20th-seeded Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova, a 6-3 6-1 victor over Camille Pin of France, and 25th seed Francesca Schiavoney of Italy, who beat Croatia’s Jelena Kostanic 6-2 7-5.

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