US Open finalists Stephens and Keys suffer first-round Wuhan defeats
US Open finalists Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys were brought back down to earth on Monday as they were eliminated from the Wuhan Open in the first round.
Stephens – seeded 14th – triumphed in the final at Flushing Meadows to claim her first major title, but was defeated 6-2 6-2 by Wang Qiang on her return to action.
Keys fared marginally better but was still beaten in straight sets, going down 6-2 7-6 (7-4) to Varvara Lepchenko in China.
Angelique Kerber has dropped to 14th in the rankings amid a dismal run of form and that continued with a 3-6 6-3 6-1 loss to Caroline Garcia, while Petra Kvitova also tumbled out following a gruelling encounter with Peng Shuai that lasted more than three and a half hours.
Agnieszka Radwanska was the only seed to get through her first-round match on Monday, beating Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4 7-5.
When Keys, who had her left wrist strapped during her defeat as she continues to struggle following surgery, was answering her last question in a post-match press conference, fellow American Stephens wandered in.
Keys gets the wrist taped and resumes play. Down 62 12 to Lepchenko. pic.twitter.com/tePrCGFrKG— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) September 25, 2017
Having both been eliminated, they consoled one another during a brief exchange in which they also made plans for later in the day.
Keys: "Hey Sloaney! Do you want to take my seat?"
Stephens: "I wish we could have done it together. We probably have similar things to say."
Keys: "You want to go eat pizza later?"
Stephens: "Sure! I would love to."
KICKED TO THE KERBER
Garcia lost the opening set but battled back for a deserved win against former world number one Kerber, who wilted in the Wuhan heat.
"The first set, I lost it, but my impression was it was still close...I kept fighting very hard," said the Frenchwoman. "Some games were very tough, very long, but I kept winning it. I'm very happy with the win, definitely."
Garcia staved off five break points throughout the match and sent down seven aces, earning a meeting with Christina McHale in the second round.
EARLY-HOURS EARLY EXIT FOR KVITOVA
Kvitova joined the host of seeds to suffer an opening-round exit after an epic tussle with Peng, which ultimately turned into the longest tour-level match of 2017.
Three tie-breaks were needed to separate the Chinese and the 11th-seeded Czech, with the home hope eventually prevailing 7-6 (9-7) 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-3).
It took Peng three hours and 34 minutes to secure victory, with the contest not reaching its conclusion until after midnight in central China. Kvitova saved a match point in the decisive set but could not recover after Peng set up three match points in the breaker.
RADWANSKA THROUGH, KONTA OUT
A routine straight-sets win for Radwanska means she will take on Julia Goerges next, with the winner earning the right to face Ashleigh Barty – the only player to have already qualified for round three.
Australian Barty bagelled Johanna Konta in the first set and came from a break down in the decider to complete a 6-0 4-6 7-6 (7-3) triumph.
Zhang Shuai overcame Donna Vekic and will tackle Karolina Pliskova next, while Daria Kasatkina beat Alison Riske 6-1 2-6 6-3. Kasatkina's reward is a clash with second seed Simona Halep, who will be in action for the first time since losing to Maria Sharapova in the first round of the US Open.
Kiki Bertens, Alize Cornet, Jil Teichmann, Barbora Strycova, Lauren Davis and Elise Mertens were the other winners on Monday.