No fans, no problem as Pliskova leads seeds into US Open 2nd round

Karolina Pliskova returns a shot to Anhelina Kalinina during the US Open tennis championships on Monday. (AP pic)

NEW YORK: Karolina Pliskova led a day of dominance for seeded players as the underdogs failed to bite at the US Open on Monday.

Top seed Pliskova shrugged off the surreal setting of an empty arena at Arthur Ashe Stadium to breeze past Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina 6-4, 6-0.

Pliskova’s brisk victory set the tone for the remainder of the opening day in the women’s draw, where 15 of the 16 seeds in action progressed safely.

World No 3 Pliskova, elevated to top seed in the absence of world No 1 Ashleigh Barty and second-ranked Simona Halep, faces France’s Caroline Garcia in the second round.

Pliskova, who made a disappointing early exit at last week’s ATP/WTA Western & Southern Open tune-up event in New York, said she was adjusting to playing before empty stands at the Open, where spectators are barred because of Covid-19 protocols.

“I felt better than in my previous match, last week,” the Czech star said.

“I think the centre court is better place to play no matter – I mean, it’s still without people, but I just felt somehow a little better.

Fourth seed Naomi Osaka meanwhile proved her fitness in a gruelling 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 win over Japanese compatriot Misaki Doi.

Osaka, 22, had withdrawn from Saturday’s Western & Southern Open final with a hamstring problem, but did not appear to be hampered by the injury during her three-set win in just over two hours.

Osaka, the 2018 US Open champion, arrived on court wearing a face mask bearing the name of Breonna Taylor, the African-American nurse who was shot by US police in her apartment in Kentucky in March.

Taylor’s case has been widely publicised during months of protests against police brutality and racial injustice in the US, and Osaka said she planned to wear face masks carrying the names of other victims as the tournament goes on.

“I have seven and it’s quite sad that seven is not enough for the amount of names,” Osaka said.

“Hopefully I’ll get to the finals and you’ll see all of them,” added Osaka, who last week threatened to withdraw from the Western & Southern tournament following the police shooting of African-American man Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.

No Coco-mania

With the draw going largely to form, Coco Gauff’s hopes of launching another giant-killing run were halted in their tracks after a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 loss to Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova.

The 16-year-old from Florida delighted fans at Wimbledon last year by advancing to the fourth round as a qualifier but was unable to take her chances as slid to defeat against her 31st-seeded opponent.

Gauff said her development this year had been hampered by lack of tournament match practice following a season which was decimated by the coronavirus shutdown.

“That’s what I need on tour. I’m playing against people older than me who have been in more situations, difficult situations, than I have,” Gauff said.

“I think the biggest thing is I just need experience.”

Elsewhere Monday, sixth seed Petra Kvitova also advanced safely, downing Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3, 6-2.

The 30-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, who has never gone beyond the quarterfinals in New York, said she was adjusting to the empty stands, as well as tournament regulations which prevent players from sightseeing in the city.

“It’s been different, for sure,” Kvitova said. “I’m glad that I had a couple of matches before to kind of get used to these new things.

“I really had to get used to being in the bubble. It’s something totally different, which I was normally doing – going out for a coffee, sitting in Central Park.

“Suddenly this is not the option.”

Germany’s 17th seed Angelique Kerber, the 2016 US Open champion, booked her second round berth with a 6-4, 6-4 defeat of Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic.