NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fourth seed Angelique Kerber showed that she has fully recovered from last year’s U.S. Open hangover by disposing of Russian Margarita Gasparyan 7-6(5) 6-3 on Tuesday to reach the second round at Flushing Meadows.
Champion in 2016, Kerber’s title defense ended almost before it began 12 months ago with the German suffering a 6-3 6-1 first round shellacking by Japan’s 46th ranked Naomi Osaka.
That upset provided a sobering reminder that anything can happen at a grand slam and Kerber made sure she would not be caught with her guard down again this year as she took on a player making her U.S. Open main draw debut.
A three-time Grand Slam winner against an opponent sitting at 370 in the world rankings and making her first appearance in a major in more than two years would appear a mismatch but it was a contest Kerber approached in a business-like manner.
Despite the background Gasparyan, who has a WTA Tour title on her resume, represented a potentially tricky first round opponent, returning to the circuit this season after missing 15 months recovering from a career-threatening knee injury.
“This is the first time that we played against each other, and she was really hitting the balls really good, really clean,” said Kerber. “I knew that she was injured for a long time... Now she’s coming back.
“If she’s playing like this in the next weeks and months, for sure, she (will) soon (be) really high in the rankings.”
The Russian showed some of her potential and a fair amount of grit by battling to take Kerber to a first set tiebreak but the Wimbledon champion kept her cool on a sweltering day on Louis Armstrong Stadium court to prevail 7-5.
The 23-year-old Gasparyan refused to wave the white flag and broke Kerber to open the second set, but the German broke back immediately to slowly seize control and wrap up the match.
“It was really not easy out there today,” said Kerber. “I think it’s one of the hottest days that I remember here.
“But at the end, when you’re out there, you just try to survive a little bit.”
Editing by Ken Ferris