MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Venus Williams and U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens were upset early and the bleak opening day for Americans continued at the Australian Open on Monday with the women going 0 for 8 by mid-afternoon and John Isner joining them as a first-round casualty.
In her first match at Rod Laver Arena since a Williams sister was guaranteed to win the final almost 12 months ago, Venus Williams lost her opener to Belinda Bencic and ensured the title won’t stay in the family.
Venus lost last year’s final to younger sister Serena, who clinched an Open era-record 23rd major but hasn’t played a Grand Slam tournament since then because of her pregnancy and the birth of her first child.
The 6-3, 7-5 loss for Venus Williams was her first in five career meetings with Bencic, who lost to Serena Williams in the first round here last year.
“I don’t think I played a bad match. She just played above and beyond,” said seven-time major winner Venus Williams, who was playing her 18th Australian Open. “I just have to give her credit for that.
“I didn’t play so bad, I wasn’t missing every shot. Just didn’t work out.”
Bencic, who was born a couple of months after the last time there was no Williams in the second round at the Australian Open (1997), hit 32 winners, had 12 unforced errors, converted five of her 11 break-point chances and only dropped serve twice. Williams got 70 percent of her first serves into play and had more unforced errors (26) than winners (22).
Bencic credited playing with Roger Federer at the Hopman Cup – where they teamed up to win for Switzerland – with helping her recent improvement as she recovers from injury. She also had a new attitude against Williams, and she had Federer’s parents in the crowd for support.
“I was thinking a lot about the last matches. For the first matches, I think I had a little bit too much respect, played a little bit careful and safe,” Bencic said. “This time I really tried to come out and hit it big.
“Also tactically be smart. You really have to be on the limit of your game – you have to come out with everything you have. I tried to do that today.”
Stephens was the first American to fall, followed by No. 10-seeded CoCo Vandeweghe, a semifinalist here and at the U.S. Open last year. CiCi Bellis, the WTA’s Newcomer of the Year, was also among the eight U.S. women who were out by mid-afternoon – 16 are in the singles draw.
No. 16 Isner lost in four sets to Australian Matt Edben.
U.S. Open finalist and No. 11-seeded Kevin Anderson was the highest-ranked man eliminated, losing in five sets to Kyle Edmund – the only British man in the draw after five-time finalist Andy Murray withdrew.
The 20-year-old Bencic saved five break points in the eighth game before a rain delay caused an almost half-hour suspension of play as the roof was closed on Rod Laver Arena. She returned on a roll, winning the next six points to hold serve and then clinch the set.
Williams’ exit followed No. 13-seeded Stephens’ 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2 loss to No. 34-ranked Zhang Shuai.
Stephens had a chance to serve for the match in the 10th game of the second set but dropped her serve. She was outplayed in the tiebreaker and in the third set, extending her losing streak to eight matches since winning the U.S. Open.
“Sloane she plays so well, won the U.S. Open – everyone knows – she’s a great player,” Zhang said. “I know how hard I’m working … coming to Australia I’m ready for every match, every player. That’s why I won today.”
Vandeweghe was leading in her first set before a rain delay on Hisense Arena, and Timea Babos rallied to win 7-6 (4), 6-2.
Of the other U.S. women out in the first round, Sofia Kenin lost to No. 12 Julia Goerges – who extended her winning streak to 15 matches – Bellis lost to No. 30 Kiki Bertens, Alison Riske lost in three sets to Kirsten Flipkens, Taylor Townsend lost in straight sets to No. 19 Magdalena Rybarikova.
French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko made a positive start with a 6-1, 6-4 win over 37-year-old Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open winner.
Other seeded players falling were No. 24 Dominika Cibulkova, the 2014 Australian Open finalist who lost to Kaia Kanepi, and No. 31 Ekaterina Makarova who lost 3-6, 6-4, 8-6 to Irina-Camelia Begu.
Ryan Harrison was among the men advancing, beating Dudi Sela in five sets, along with No. 10 Pablo Carreno Busta, No. 23 Gilles Muller and No. 31 Pablo Cuevas.
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