By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Second seed Angelique Kerber, one of four women's players who could emerge from Flushing Meadows as world number one, made a short and sweet start at the U.S. Open on a hot, sunny Monday.
World number two Kerber powered through her first set in 27 minutes before logging a 6-0 1-0 victory when 120th-ranked Polona Hercog of Slovenia retired because of leg cramps.
Kerber, who came within one match win eight days ago in Cincinnati from leapfrogging Serena Williams into the world number one spot, did not lose a point on serve in the opening set and dropped only nine points in the one-sided contest.
"To be honest, it's never the way I would like to finish the match, but I went out there to feel my rhythm and start the tournament well," said Kerber, who improved to 49-4 this season.
"I played the first set really good, so this is what I will take from this match, that I'm playing my tennis.
"For me, it's always tricky the first few rounds. So it's always good to have the first round done."
Olympic silver medallist Kerber whipped seven forehand winners past Hercog, who had beaten the left-hander in two of their five previous matches.
Besides Kerber, third-seeded French Open champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain and fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland are also mathematically capable of overtaking Williams, who has has reigned for 185 consecutive weeks.
"I have a lot of confidence, especially also from the last few weeks and from the whole year, actually," said Kerber, who reached the finals at the Rio Olympics, Wimbledon and Cincinnati.
The German, who has been questioned repeatedly about her campaign to claim number one, said she would focus on her tennis as she pursues the target.
"To be one day number one, I think this is a goal from everybody, especially also for me," said Kerber.
"But I will not put too much pressure on myself ... because I know that when I put the pressure (on), I'm not playing my tennis then.
"I will go out there to win every match going step by step. If the day will come someday, it will be amazing. Let's see."
Next up for Kerber will be Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia, who beat France's Alize Cornet 6-4 6-1 in her opening match at the U.S. National Tennis Center.
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)