MELBOURNE, Australia – Sloane Stephens' woes since her winning her first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open have continued with a first-round loss at the Australian Open.
No. 13-seeded Stephens was serving for the match in the 10th game of the second set against Zhang Shuai but dropped her serve. She was outplayed in the tiebreaker and in the third set, with Zhang winning 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2.
It always shaped as a tough opener for Stephens, who hasn't won a tour-level match since her triumph at the U.S. Open last year and facing a player ranked No. 34, two spots off being seeded for the first major of the season.
Stephens didn't play last year's Australian Open because of a left foot injury that kept her out of action until Wimbledon. Since beating Madison Keys in the U.S. Open final, Stephens has lost eight matches.
"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."
There were two first-time major winners last year, and both were in action first-up on adjoining show courts.
French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko made a positive start with a 6-1, 6-4 win over 37-year-old Francesca Schiavone. The age gap between 20-year-old Ostapenko and 2010 French Open winner Schiavone was the biggest of any in the first round at Melbourne Park.
Ostapenko saved two break points in the third game of the opening set and clinched the set with an ace. After an exchange of service breaks in the second, Ostapenko got the decisive break in the ninth game, then served out the match after double-faulting on her first match point.
The seventh-seeded Ostapenko is playing her third Australian Open — she advanced to the third round at Melbourne Park last year. Schiavone was playing in the Australian Open main draw for the 17th time.
Fifth-seeded Venus Williams, who lost last year's Australian Open final to her sister, Serena, is the only player older than Schiavone in the main draw of the women's singles. Williams was playing Belinda Bencic in the following match on Rod Laver Arena.
In other early first-round results, 12th-seeded Julia Goerges extended her winning streak to 15 matches with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Sofia Kenin, Alize Cornet beat Chinese wild-card entry Wang Xinyu 6-4, 6-2 and No. 19 Magdalena Rybarikova beat Taylor Townsend 6-0, 7-5.
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