NEW YORK — Under normal circumstances, Karolina Pliskova would not have been seeded No. 1 at the US Open and so, while a second-round loss certainly would have been disappointing to her, and noticed by others, it wouldn’t have been as newsworthy.
But what’s normal in 2020? With the women who are 1-2 in the rankings choosing to skip the trip to Flushing Meadows because of the coronavirus pandemic, No. 3 Pliskova ascended to the top spot in the draw — and by Day 3, she was gone.
Pliskova, the 2016 runner-up at the US Open, made her mood clear during a 6-1, 7-6 (2) loss to 50th-ranked Caroline Garcia on Wednesday by breaking a racket, then again afterward with a series of clipped responses at her news conference.
Pliskova fidgeted with the microphone. Sighed. Rolled her eyes.
When a reporter offered possible explanations for the defeat — a new faster surface on the courts, a lack of atmosphere because there are no spectators, the pressure of her high seeding — Pliskova replied: “Nothing from what you said.”
Her reasoning for the result? “I didn’t play good,” Pliskova said, “so that’s it.”
When another member of the media said this back-and-forth must be boring to Pliskova, she said, “Yeah, a little bit. Did you see the match or no?” and soon after remarked, “I don’t know if you understand tennis well enough.”
Elsewhere on the women’s side, Naomi Osaka, seeded fourth, defeated Camila Giorgi 6-1, 6-2 to advance to the third round.
Her play at the US Open this week has her mother, Tamaki, applauding virtually.
Following Osaka’s win over Giorgi — in which she committed only 11 unforced errors — came a congratulatory conversation by remote with her mother, who was shown on a courtside video screen.
“Hi! What are you doing?” Osaka said.
The audio connection wasn’t great, but Mom clapped.
“Oh my gosh,” Osaka said.
Her mom, who is Japanese, also held up a sheet of images, which Osaka later explained.
“She’s saying, the first one is, ‘Good job,’ and then the second one is, ‘Don’t do Instagram and Twitter and instead go to sleep,'” Osaka said. “And then the third one is, ‘Drink green juice and get some rest,’ and then the fourth one is, ‘I love you.”’
After a first round that went more to form than ever — 29 of 32 seeded women won their opening matches, a US Open record since the number of seeds was doubled from 16 in 2001 — the surprises started in the second round on Wednesday.
Shelby Rogers, an American ranked 93rd, beat 11th-seeded Elena Rybakina 7-5, 6-1, and Ann Li, who is ranked 128th, beat 13th-seeded Alison Riske 6-0, 6-3 in a matchup between two players from Pennsylvania.
Other seeded women who were eliminated: No. 12 Marketa Vondrousova, No. 30 Kristina Mladenovic, No. 31 Anastasija Sevastova.
Mladenovic’s loss was the wildest of them all. She led 6-1, 5-1, then later held four match points but never was able to finish and ended up on the wrong end of a 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-0 result against 102nd-ranked Varvara Gracheva.
Pliskova had chances to take the second set against Garcia, who had been 0-8 against top-five opponents at Grand Slam tournaments, but failed to do so.
Couldn’t really come up with how to describe why this happened, either.
“That’s how it is sometimes,” Pliskova said. “I am not a robot, so I don’t have to play every day amazing.”
Garcia, ranked 50th, beat Pliskova for the fourth time in their seven meetings.
Garcia said she just kept her focus when Pliskova seemed to be turning the tide in the match.
“Sometimes the score can say it’s really like there is a top player and then there is a bad one, but it’s not really like this,” Garcia said. “It’s closer than it looks most of the time and a few points can make the switch. So I had to stay focused.
“I knew maybe she was going to come back, she was not going to give me the match for sure so I had to be ready for everything. When she came back very well I had to stay calm and that was most important.”
Earlier in the day, Angelique Kerber moved into the third round with a solid showing that brought her some much-needed confidence. A 6-3, 7-6 (6) victory over Anna-Lena Friedsam had her feeling more at home in the place where she made her WTA Tour breakthrough in 2011 by reaching the semifinals.
“It’s a really special place for me,” the 32-year-old Kerber said. “Everything starts for me here in 2011, a long time ago.”
She hadn’t played competitively in seven months, which weighed on her when she headed to New York. How would all that time away from competition translate to a Grand Slam? How would it play out amid all the changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic?
“I was sitting on the plane and I was like, ‘OK, let’s see what happens,'” she said. “It’s not so easy. We had such a long break. You need a little time to find your way and your rhythm again.”
Kerber’s win with the roof closed at Louis Armstrong Stadium started the third day of the tournament, when a chance of rain was forecast.
No. 6 seed Petra Kvitova also moved into the third round with an uneven match that helped her adapt to the new conditions. She was nervous in the first set but played much steadier in a 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory over Kateryna Kozlova, ranked No. 99 in the world.
“With my nerves, I wasn’t moving well,” she said. “That’s a Grand Slam. At the beginning of the tournament it’s always like that.”
The US Open has been a big challenge for Kvitova, making her 14th appearance. It’s the only Grand Slam event where she has failed to reach the semifinals. She won Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014, but her best showings at Flushing Meadows were in 2015 and 2017 when she reached the quarterfinals.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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