Kim Clijsters’ first Grand Slam match in eight years ended in defeat when the Belgian veteran was beaten in three sets by Ekaterina Alexandrova at the US Open.
Clijsters, 37, launched the second comeback of her career earlier this year only to see her return thwarted by the COVID-19 crisis which decimated the international tournament calendar.
However, she raised hopes of scoring a massive upset over her 21st-seeded Russian opponent on after taking the opening set.
Alexandrova asserted her class thereafter though, levelling in the second before completing a 3-6 7-5 6-1 win.
Clijsters appeared to be suffering from an abdominal injury as the match wore on
Clijsters — who earnt the nickname “Aussie Kim” for dating Lleyton Hewitt much earlier in her career — is a three-time US Open champion with wins in 2005, 2009 and 2010, but had not played a Grand Slam event since a second round exit at Flushing Meadows in 2012.
VENUS IN RETROGADE AFTER OPEN SHOCKER
Venus Williams bowed out of the US Open in the first round for the first time in her professional career, losing in straight sets to Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic.
The 40-year-old Williams, making her 22nd appearance at Flushing Meadows in a career that has spanned four decades, was beaten 6-3 7-5.
It marked Williams’ second consecutive first round defeat at a Grand Slam event after exiting the Australian Open at the same stage in January.
The seven-time Grand Slam champion has not been past the third round at a Slam event since 2017.
Muchova — who was only one when Williams was playing in her first US Open final in 1997, where she lost to Martina Hingis — always had the veteran American star on the back foot.
After losing the first set, Williams rallied in the second and opened up a 5-3 lead, seemingly poised to force a third set.
But a string of unforced errors allowed Muchova to roar back into the match and she reeled off four consecutive games to close out the win.
Muchova, the 20th seed, will play unseeded Russian Anna Kalinskaya in the second round.
It came after Williams’ sister and six-time winner Serena Williams got off to a winning start, powering past 96th-ranked Kristie Ahn 7-5 6-3 as she launched her protracted pursuit of a record-equalling 24th singles grand slam title on day two at Flushing Meadows.
Williams overcame the loss of her first service game in the opening set to advance at a virtually empty Arthur Ashe Stadium, where artwork by black artists is displayed in honour of the Black Lives Matter movement against racial injustice.
The win was Williams’ 102nd at US Opens — a new record that surpassed Chris Evert’s previous mark.
“I was really happy with how I just fought for every point no matter how I was playing,” said Williams, joking that it felt like she hadn’t won a match in straight sets “since the ‘90s”.
It has been more than three years since Williams won her 23rd grand slam title at the 2017 Australian Open — when she was already pregnant with daughter Olympia.
She has come close since, reaching four major finals only to come away empty-handed.
Williams needs one more to equal Margaret Court’s record and her chances should be improved by the absence of several top players because of coronavirus concerns or injury.
World No. 1 Ashl Barty, the second-ranked Simona Halep and Canadian Bianca Andreescu — who stunned Williams in last year’s final — are all absent from the behind-closed-doors tournament.
A title win for Williams would also see her become the most decorated women’s player at the US Open in the modern era.
She is currently tied with Evert for most US Open women’s titles with six.
CANCER REVEAL ROCKS US OPEN
Carla Suarez Navarro, who last week pulled out of the US Open for medical reasons, said Wednesday she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and will require six months of chemotherapy.
“Hi everyone, just wanted to let you know that a few days ago I was diagnosed with lymphoma. It’s a Hodgkin lymphoma,” Suarez Navarro said in a video uploaded to her Twitter account.
“I’ll need to go through six months of chemotherapy. I’m fine and calm at the moment, willing to face whatever comes.”
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Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system.
Suarez Navarro, who turns 32 on Thursday, said in December that this year would be her final season on the WTA Tour.
“I have to face a complicated reality. It is time to accept it and try to get ahead relying on medical advice. Always with positivity in the face of adversity,” she added.
“Patience and self-belief guided me through my career. Not the easiest rival to deal with. I’ll need my truly best.”
The Spaniard, a seven-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist, achieved a career-high sixth in the world in 2016 but has battled injuries in recent years. She is currently ranked 71st.
Two-time Grand Slam singles winner Garbine Muguruza dedicated her first round win against Japan’s Nao Hibino to her compatriot.
Muguruza, the 2016 French Open champion and 2017 Wimbledon winner, needed 1hr 30min to complete a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Hibino, the world number 78.
“When she gave me the news I was shocked,” Muguruza said. “She’s such a nice woman, so sweet, so kind, so humble.
“When these things happen to good people, I feel so sad about it. I know she was watching my match … and I dedicate this win to her, because I want her to feel that we are behind her.”
Muguruza will face Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova in the next round. Pironkova advanced with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Russia’s Liudmila Samsonova.
In other early women’s matches, 16th seed Elise Mertens of Belgium cruised into the second round with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Germany’s Laura Siegemund.
US hope Amanda Anisimova, seeded 22, also made sure of her place in the second round with a hard-fought win over Bulgaria’s Viktoriya Tomova.
Anisimova prevailed 7-5, 7-5 in 1hr 27 minutes and now faces either Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia or compatriot Katrina Scott.