Tag Archives: Osaka

Activist, champion: Naomi Osaka named AP Female Athlete of Year

With tennis, like so much of the world, shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Naomi Osaka found herself with time to read and think.

And while she won the U.S. Open for her third Grand Slam title, she also stood out for speaking out about racial injustice and police brutality.

As noteworthy in 2020 for her activism away from the tennis court as her success on it, Osaka was selected by The Associated Press as the Female Athlete of the Year in results revealed Sunday after a vote by AP member sports editors and AP beat writers.

 WATCH | CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux on the year that was:

Athletes around the world raised a collective voice in an unprecedented show of power. 5:03

“It was difficult to be isolated from my family for large parts of the year, but that’s nothing compared to others. It was sad to watch and read the news of people suffering from COVID-19, and the economic and social effect on so many — losing jobs, mental health. It was such a tough year for so many people,” Osaka wrote in an email interview. “And then watching the police injustices like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake [to name just a few] in the summer broke my heart. I am proud of my U.S. Open victory, but more so that I got people talking about the real issues.”

Osaka collected 18 of 35 first-place votes and a total of 71 points.

WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart was next with nine first-place votes and 60 points, followed by Sarah Fuller, the Vanderbilt soccer player who kicked for the school’s football team, with one first-place vote and 24 points.

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From Hill to Osaka to Ogwumike, some of the athletes who made a difference to us

As observers of sports, we often find ourselves in wonder at the physical achievements of the people we cover. The actions of so many of them over the past 12 months has shown us something else to admire. Here are some who left an impression with the CBC Sports staff:

Naomi Osaka

The 23-year-old Japanese tennis star didn’t wait to see how other athletes would protest for Black Lives Matter. She was at the forefront of the protest. 

She boldly wore the names of Breonna Taylor and others on her masks as she walked into matches at the U.S. Open

She unapologetically used her voice to make her mark on the BLM movement. When people asked her to stick to sports and not get political, she used that as fuel to win matches and protest more. 

– Monika Platek


George Hill

When the NBA restarted in its bubble in Florida, the players had used their voice to raise awareness and push for change over systemic racism. On the courts and jerseys were phrases such as “Black Lives Matter”, “Say Their Names”, “Vote”, “I Can’t Breathe”, “Justice”, “Peace”, “Equality”.

But on Aug. 26, George Hill and the Milwaukee Bucks took it further. Just three days before, Jacob Blake had been shot by police in Kenosha, Wisc. Hill and other NBA players grew frustrated with the lack of change. 

Minutes before their playoff game against the Orlando Magic, Hill and the Bucks announced they were not going to play. Hill read out a statement and sat down for an interview to discuss why the players decided to boycott their games to protest the continued social injustice they saw. 

WATCH | Milwaukee Bucks on why they won’t play:

After becoming the first team to boycott games in the NBA bubble, the Milwaukee Bucks players made a joint statement to the media. 1:54

Hill would not answer any basketball-related questions as he wanted all the talk to be about Blake and his family and the social injustice. Immediately after Hill and the Bucks’ decision, the rest of the NBA, WNBA, several MLB teams, and eventually, the NHL paused action for two days.

– Cole Shelton


Pam Buisa and Charity Williams 

Usually when you go on a professional athlete’s Instagram page you’ll see mainly professional shots of them competing, training or pushing a sponsored post like the influencers they are. Many will use their platforms to share the ups and downs of competition, or an inspiring #motivationmonday type message. 

Not all will use their platform as authentically and passionately to support social change as we saw from Rugby Canada players Charity Williams and Pam Buisa. Since this summer’s protests in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the pair have been vocal on Instagram and at protests and gatherings in support of Black Lives Matter. 

– Tanya Casole-Gouveia


Kim Clavel

Stop me if you’ve heard the one about the championship winning athlete from Quebec, who took a break from sports to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in long-term care homes in Montreal.

Kansas City Chiefs guard, Super Bowl LIV champion and McGill medical school graduate Laurent Duvernay-Tardif?

No. While his story is well known, Kim Clavel’s is not.

After taking a year off from nursing to train for boxing, Clavel, from Joliette, Que,. won the North American Boxing Federation female light flyweight title last December. She was set to fight — and make her first real payday — in the main event at the Montreal Casino on March 21 before the COVID-19 outbreak forced the cancellation 10 days before her bout.

After absorbing that body blow, Clavel went back to work as a replacement nurse, fighting COVID-19 in the pandemic-ravaged long-term care homes in Montreal. In June, Kim Clavel was named the ESPY Awards 2020 recipient of the Pat Tillman Award for Service.

– Bill Cooney

WATCH | Devin Heroux on the year that was:

Athletes around the world raised a collective voice in an unprecedented show of power. 5:03

Lewis Hamilton

Not only has Lewis Hamilton raised awareness and led the way in pushing Formula 1 to adopt a strong anti-racism stance, he formed his own Hamilton Commission aimed at making motorsport more diverse. 

Although many in racing have supported Hamilton, including his own Mercedes team switching out their traditional ‘Silver Arrows’ look for an all-Black livery, and adopting Black Lives Matter masks, it hasn’t been easy for Hamilton to raise awareness for social change. 

New rules were put in place by the the sport’s governing body to force drivers to remain in their race attire because Hamilton had worn a t-shirt with the words “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” before a race and on the podium. 

Hamilton started his racing career in F-1 14 years ago and was the first driver of colour in the sport. Today he remains the only Black driver on the circuit. 

Hamilton won his record-tying seventh world championship this season but never changed his focus from promoting social change, diversity and raising awareness on key issues.

– Marcus Rebelo


Chiney Ogwumike

When Los Angeles Sparks’ Chiney Ogwumike opted out of the WNBA’s 2020 season in the Bradenton, Fla., bubble it was for two reasons: to heal her body and to fight for social justice. 

She took that second reason to heart.

Ogwumike has been a vocal member of the LeBron James-led More Than a Vote organization encouraging American citizens to register to vote, and providing them the resources to do so. 


Ogwumike then turned that message into action. When it became clear younger poll workers were needed during the pandemic to replace the more vulnerable elderly volunteers, she stepped up herself. She joined her two sisters, including fellow WNBA all-star Nneka Ogwumike, as election workers in Houston, an effort that was even recognized by former President Barack Obama.

– Alexis Allison


Marcus Rashford

Throughout the pandemic, Marcus Rashford has dazzled both on and off the field. As the United Kingdom went into lockdown, the Manchester United star worried not about himself as he is today — a multi-million dollar athlete — but as the kid he once was, dependent upon the state for his meals.

Recognizing the effect that school closures would have on those in need, the 23-year-old launched a public campaign to end child poverty. The tidal wave of support he received helped convince British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, not once, but twice, to alter his policies and pledge nearly $ 300 million to help low-income families struggling as a result of COVID-19.

– Ignacio Estefanell


Matt Dumba

While the NHL and its players have been accused of being tone deaf in the past with regards to social issues, Matt Dumba helped change that perception with his speech before the beginning of the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

“For those unaffected by systematic racism or unaware, I’m sure that some of you believe that this topic has garnered too much attention during the last couple months. But let me assure you, it has not,” the Minnesota Wild defenceman said.

The speech (and his kneel that followed) was a powerful message on hockey’s biggest stage.

– Rob Pizzo


Colin Kaepernick

Slightly forgotten in the midst of athlete protests against racism is one of the people who helped start it all. After first taking a knee during the U.S. national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality, Kaepernick was ostracized and effectively blacklisted from the NFL.

Four years later, taking a knee was the dominant image of the Black Lives Matter movement across sports worldwide. The NFL finally invited all 32 teams to sign Kaepernick (even though he still hasn’t been), league commissioner Roger Goodell said he wished the league listened more when Kaepernick first took a knee, and the movement he started went from a powerful, public stance to something more tangible. 

He started the “Know Your Rights Camp Legal Defence Initiative” to provide legal aid to people affected by police brutality. 

– Steve Tzemis


Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

In a year of great challenges, the greatest was (and still is) the coronavirus pandemic. The Montreal native tackled that challenge head-on. Just weeks after helping Kansas City win the Super Bowl by protecting the NFL’s biggest star, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the aspiring medical doctor gave up his high-profile job (and his multi-million-dollar salary) to help protect our most vulnerable people — those in long-term care homes. Offensive line to front lines: doesn’t get any more inspiring than that.

– Jesse Campigotto


WNBA / Maya Moore

Social activism isn’t anything new in the WNBA. Maya Moore, arguably the best player ever, led her Minnesota Lynx in protest after the police killing of Philando Castile in July 2016 — two months before Colin Kaepernick first kneeled. It’s no wonder, then, that the WNBA’s players have been leaders as people around the world organized to protest racial injustice following the police killing of George Floyd in May.

Floyd’s death came as the WNBA was preparing to play out its season from a bubble in Florida. The WNBA offered players a chance to opt out of the season to pursue their cause and still get paid in full. 


Four players, including Moore, took that opportunity. The rest of the league protested from the bubble. The season was dedicated to Breonna Taylor, killed by Louisville police in March, with a rallying cry to arrest those responsible. 

“Black Lives Matter” was written on the courts and jerseys. Atlanta Dream players publicly endorsed team owner Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s opponent Raphael Warnock in a Georgia senate race after Loeffler questioned the Black Lives Matter movement. That race was so close it’s headed to a runoff in January. Players refused to play after Jacob Blake was shot.

As for Moore? In her second straight season off, she accomplished her goal of freeing Jonathan Irons, a wrongfully accused man serving a 50-year sentence, from prison. Moore and Irons were married in September.

– Myles Dichter

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Defending champion, No. 1 seed Naomi Osaka ousted before quarters at U.S. Open

Naomi Osaka’s 10-match U.S. Open winning streak and title defence are done after she was outplayed in the fourth round by Belinda Bencic and lost 7-5, 6-4 Monday.

Osaka has been wearing a black sleeve on her bothersome left knee and was visited by a trainer after getting broken to trail 3-2 in the second set.

“I was so excited to come on the court. The challenge cannot be bigger [than] against Naomi,” said the 13th-seeded Bencic, who will face No. 23 Donna Vekic in the quarter-finals. “I’m really pleased with how I played and how I managed my nerves in the end.”

The result under the closed roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium on a rainy afternoon means both defending champions and No. 1 seeds are gone before the quarterfinals at the year’s last Grand Slam tournament.

WATCH | Bencic stuns Osaka in 4th round at Flushing Meadows:

Belinda Bencic defeats defending U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka 7-5, 6-4 in their round of 16 match at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York. 1:45

Last year’s men’s champ, Novak Djokovic, stopped playing in his fourth-round match against Stan Wawrinka on Sunday night because of a painful left shoulder.

Osaka made her breakthrough at Flushing Meadows in 2018, winning her first major championship by beating Serena Williams in a chaotic final that devolved after Williams got into an extended argument with the chair umpire.

Osaka followed that up with a second consecutive Grand Slam trophy at the Australian Open in January. That allowed her to become the first tennis player representing Japan to reach No. 1 in the rankings.

Big-match player

Bencic, who is from Switzerland, showed again that she is a big-match player. She improved to 3-0 against Osaka this season and now has a tour-leading nine victories over top-10 opponents in 2019. Bencic also is 4-1 over her career against top-ranked players.

Bencic is 22, just a year older than Osaka, but her progress was slowed in recent years by injuries, including wrist surgery.

Back in 2014, when she was 17, Bencic became the youngest woman into the U.S. Open quarterfifnals since 1997, when Martina Hingis took the title.

It was Hingis’ mother, and then Hingis herself, who coached and mentored Bencic along the way, and she credited them after getting past Osaka.

“I know so much from them, what they’ve taught me,” Bencic said.

Nadal dispatches Cilic

Rafael Nadal easily passed his first test of this year’s U.S. Open and reached the quarter-finals at a ninth consecutive Grand Slam tournament.

With Tiger Woods throwing uppercuts in the stands, Nadal shook off dropping a set and powered past 2014 champion Marin Cilic 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 in the fourth round.

Nadal dropped a set for the first time in this year’s tournament but quickly responded by breaking to lead 3-1 in the third set and was on his way.

Nadal is seeking his fourth title at Flushing Meadows and his 19th Grand Slam trophy overall. Roger Federer holds the men’s record of 20; they only could meet in the final this year. The rivals never have played each other in New York.

The No. 2-seeded Nadal, who retired from his 2018 semifinal at the U.S. Open with a knee injury, will try to get back to the final four by beating No. 20 Diego Schwartzman.

Vekic achieves career best

Vekic, a 23-year-old from Croatia, reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final by saving a match point and edging No. 26 Julia Goerges of Germany 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-3.

“I don’t even know how I won this match,” Vekic said.

Well, here’s how: Goerges served for the victory at 5-4 in the second set, coming within one point of ending things right there. Not only couldn’t Goerges convert, but she also double-faulted three times in that game and unraveled from there, wasting a 21-ace effort.

Osaka is more powerful than Bencic and repeatedly used her serve to keep things close, finishing with nine aces.

But it was Bencic’s precision that won the day. She made only 12 unforced errors in the entire match, while producing 29 winners.

Her style is similar to the younger Hingis, who won five Grand Slam singles titles.

“I’m just trying to play it a little bit like chess and anticipate,” Bencic said.

Playing so crisply, so cleanly, she took balls on the rise and snapped them back, rushing Osaka and not giving her time to respond in kind.

Bencic broke for a 6-5 lead with a forehand volley winner followed by a backhand passing winner, then served out that set. In the second, Bencic conjured up another terrific backhand passing shot off a sharp volley by Osaka to set up love-40, and a double-fault then made it 3-2.

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Naomi Osaka stuns Serena Williams in controversial U.S. Open final

The events and the arguing and the booing that would make this a U.S. Open final unlike any other began when Serena Williams' coach made what she insisted was an innocent thumbs-up, but the chair umpire interpreted as a helpful signal.

It was the second game of the second set Saturday, in a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium, and Williams' bid for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title already was in real trouble because she was being outplayed by first-time major finalist Naomi Osaka.

Chair umpire Carlos Ramos warned Williams for getting coaching during a match, which isn't allowed. She briefly disputed that ruling, saying cheating "is the one thing I've never done, ever." A few games later, Williams received another warning, this time for smashing her racket, and that second violation cost her a point, drawing more arguing. Eventually, Willams called Ramos "a thief," drawing a third violation — and costing her a game.

"I have never cheated in my life!" Williams told Ramos. "You owe me an apology."

Watch the controversial decision from the chair empire:

Williams was given a 3rd code violation in the 2nd set of the U.S. Open Final, resulting in the loss of a game. Naomi Osaka would go on to with the match in straight sets 6-2, 6-4. 3:47

Soon, Osaka was finishing off a 6-2, 6-4 victory that made her the first player from Japan to win a Grand Slam singles title. That is not, however, what will be remembered about this match.

Watch highlights from Osaka's championship win:

Osaka shocked Serena Williams in straight sets to win the title but the main story in the match was the 3rd code violation handed to Williams which resulted in an automatic loss of game in the 2nd set. 2:30

Awkward trophy ceremony

With jeers bouncing off the arena's closed roof, both players — the champion, Osaka, and the runner-up, Williams — wiped away tears during a trophy ceremony that was awkward for everyone involved.

Williams whispered something to Osaka and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

"I felt, at one point, bad, because I'm crying and she's crying. You know, she just won. I'm not sure if they were happy tears or they were just sad tears, because of the moment. I felt like, `Wow, this isn't how I felt when I won my first Grand Slam.' I was like, `Wow, I definitely don't want her to feel like that,"' said Williams, who missed last year's U.S. Open because her daughter, Olympia, was born during the tournament. "Maybe it was the mom in me that was like, `Listen, we've got to pull ourselves together here.'"

Williams, right, tries to console Osaka following their match. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

This was the only the latest in a series of high-profile conflicts with match officials for Williams at Flushing Meadows. It all dates back to 2004, when an incorrect call during a quarter-final loss to Jennifer Capriati was cited as the main reason for the introduction of replay technology in tennis. Then came Williams' infamous tirade after a foot fault in the 2009 semifinals against Kim Clijsters, and a to-do over a hindrance call in the 2011 final against Sam Stosur.

"It's always something," Williams said.

Osaka is just 20, 16 years younger than Williams — and grew up idolizing the American, even asking her to pose for a selfie together at a tournament just a handful of years ago. Their age difference was the second-widest gap between women's finalists at a Slam in the professional era.

"I know that everyone was cheering for her," Osaka told the crowd, "and I'm sorry it had to end like this."

Osaka refuses to budge

What was most problematic for Williams on the scoreboard was that she was unable to keep up with a version of herself. Osaka, who happens to be coached by Williams' former hitting partner, hit more aces, 6-3. Osaka hit the match's fastest serve, 119 mph. She had fewer errors, 21-14. She saved five of six break points. And she covered the court better than Williams did.

"She made a lot of shots," Williams said. "She was so focused."

Indeed, that was what might have been most impressive. Osaka never let Williams' back-and-forth with Ramos distract her, never wavered from playing terrific tennis. The one time Osaka did get broken, to trail 3-1 in the second set, she broke back immediately, prompting Williams to smash her racket.

Mouratoglou admits trying to signal Williams

That cost her a point, because of the earlier warning for coaching. Williams' coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, acknowledged afterward that he did try to signal Williams, but didn't think she had seen him — and added that he thinks every player gets coaching during matches.

"I never had any warning in my career for coaching. Strange to do that in a Grand Slam final," Mouratoglou said. "Second, we all know that all the coaches coach at every match, all year long, from the first of January all the way to the 31st of December. We all know it."


When Ramos called both players over to explain the game penalty, which put Osaka ahead 5-3, Williams began laughing, saying: "Are you kidding me?" Then she asked to speak to tournament referee Brian Earley, who walked onto the court along with a Grand Slam supervisor. Williams told them the whole episode "is not fair," and said: "This has happened to me too many times."

"To lose a game for saying that is not fair," Williams said. "There's a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things and because they are men, that doesn't happen."

It was the second Grand Slam final defeat in a row for Williams, after Wimbledon in July. She's appeared in only seven tournaments this season since returning to the tour after having a baby during last year's U.S. Open.

Williams asked what she'll tell her daughter, Olympia, about what happened Saturday.

"I'll tell her, first of all, if she sees it, that, you know, I stood up for what I believed in. I stood up for what was right," Williams replied. "Sometimes, things in life don't happen the way we want them, but always stay gracious and stay humble. I think that's the lesson we can all learn from this."

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U.S. Open: Kei Nishikori, Naomi Osaka combine to make history

Kei Nishikori rallied to outlast Marin Cilic on Wednesday at the U.S. Open, giving Japan a men's and women's semifinalist at the same Grand Slam for the first time in the professional era.

Nishikori won the rematch of the 2014 final with a 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 victory in a match that lasted 4 hours, 8 minutes.

In the match before Nishikori's, Naomi Osaka moved into her first Grand Slam semifinal by routing Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 6-1 on Wednesday in the U.S. Open quarter-finals.

Only once in the professional era that began in 1968 had Japan had a men's and women's player in the quarter-finals at the same tournament. That was at Wimbledon in 1995, and both Shuzo Matsuoka and Kimiko Date lost in that round.

Kei Nishikori defeated Marin Cilic in a five-set marathon in the U.S Open quarter-finals on Wednesday. 1:25

The seventh-seeded Cilic won the 2014 final in straight sets for his only career major title. Nishikori said this week that he was nervous once that match began, but this one was nothing like that day.

Instead, it resembled their 2010 second-round match in Flushing Meadows, when Nishikori rallied to win in five sets in 4:59, the fifth-longest men's singles match by time in U.S. Open history.

Continues strong rebound

The No. 21 seed continued his strong season after returning from a wrist injury that forced him to miss the U.S. Open last year and will play either No. 6 seed Novak Djokovic or unseeded John Millman on Friday.

"I wish I don't go to five sets every time," Nishikori said.

Osaka had it much easier, continuing what's been a largely dominant run through the draw by winning in just 57 minutes, the third time in her five matches she didn't even have to play an hour.

The No. 20 seed moved from Japan to New York at age 3, and her deepest major run is coming at the same tournament she first visited as a child.

Naomi Osaka is the first Japanese woman to make the semifinals a Grand Slam event in 22 years. She defeated Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 6-1 on Wednesday. (Jason DeCrow/Associated Press)

"Well, it definitely means a lot for me, and I always thought if I were to win a Grand Slam, the first one I'd want to win is the US Open, because I have grown up here and, like, then my grandparents can come and watch," she said. "I think it would be really cool."

She raced to a 3-0 lead in the first set and then 4-0 in the second against the shaky Tsurenko, who finished with more unforced errors than points in her first major quarter-final.

'Freaking out'

Osaka will face either 14th-seeded Madison Keys or No. 30 Carla Suarez Navarro in the first major semifinal appearance for a Japanese woman since Date reached the final four at Wimbledon in 1996.

The 20-year-old said she was nervous, claiming to be "freaking out inside" — though it certainly never showed.

"Just like my entire body was shaking, so I'm really glad I was able to play well today," she said.

She won 59 points to just 28 for the unseeded Ukrainian, who knocked off No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki in the second round.

Osaka had consecutive 50-minute matches earlier in the tournament, including a 6-0, 6-0 thrashing of Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the third round.

It was another hot afternoon Wednesday, with temperatures in the high-80s (30s Celsius) but feeling some 10 degrees hotter with the humidity.​

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U.S. Open: Japan's Osaka stuns defending champ Kerber in 1st round

Angelique Kerber left the U.S. Open last year on top of women’s tennis, with a second Grand Slam title and the No. 1 ranking.

She leaves this year after one match — unsure of exactly what went wrong during a season-long slump.

The sixth-seeded German was beaten by Naomi Osaka of Japan 6-3, 6-1, the first defending women’s champion eliminated in the first round of the U.S. Open in 12 years.

Top seed Pliskova advances to 2nd round of U.S. Open1:02

“I think, yeah, it was not my day, completely not my day today,” Kerber said.

Not her year, actually.

Kerber is also on her way out of the top 10 after losing one of the only completed matches before most of the schedule was washed out on a rainy Tuesday. Canada’s Genie Bouchard was scheduled to play Tuesday and will now play her first-round match on Wednesday morning, while Denis Shapovalov will play his second-round match later in Wednesday night.

Earlier, No. 1 seed Karolina Pliskova won her first-round match, defeating Magda Linette of Poland 6-2, 6-1.

Fellow Czech Barbora Strycova also advanced quickly to the second round. The No. 23 seed beat Misaki Doi of Japan 6-1, 6-3.

Not since Svetlana Kuznetsova lost in the first round in 2005 had the defending U.S. Open women’s champion been ousted so early.

But perhaps it wasn’t too surprising after Kerber played so poorly following her breakthrough 2016, when she also won the Australian Open and lost to Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final before ascending to No. 1 with her victory here.

This year, she fell in the first round of the French Open, that first time that had ever happened to the women’s No. 1 seed in that tournament.

She said she had been practicing well and was confident, despite some minor nagging injuries she had bothered her throughout the season.

“I’m still the same player and the same person, so I think it’s just — yeah, I think it’s just the matches and how I played last year from the beginning and how I’m struggling this year,” Kerber said.

Kerber and Osaka had the stage to themselves after play was suspended on all courts other than Arthur Ashe Stadium, which has a retractable roof that was closed midway through No. 1 Karolina Pliskova’s 6-2, 6-1 victory over Magda Linette of Poland.

Kerber then took the same court where she beat Pliskova for the title last year and took another stinging defeat.

The left-hander fell to 25-18 with no titles in 2017. She needed to make it to at least the round of 16 to stay in the top 10 and couldn’t get close. She had been in the top 10 since Oct. 5, 2015, a run that would total 101 weeks before she falls out.

Federer survives scare

Roger Federer already has dropped two more sets at the U.S. Open than he did during his entire two weeks en route to the title at Wimbledon.

Worried about a recent back problem, Federer was a step or two off with his footwork at the outset. His backhand, in particular, was problematic. He had to overcome an early deficit and a late lapse Tuesday night to edge 19-year-old American Frances Tiafoe 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 in a compelling first-round contest.

“I had a bit of a slow start today, but Frances also felt good from the beginning. I was maybe a bit worried at the beginning with my back issue from a couple of weeks ago,” Federer said, “but was eventually able to let go.”

The No. 3-seeded Federer, whose most recent of five championships at Flushing Meadows came in 2008, got broken in the first game and dropped the opening set of the topsy-turvy match. He then appeared to take control by grabbing eight of nine games to seize the second and third sets. But he let that lead slip away.

“He won by the skin of his teeth,” Tiafoe said.

federer

Frances Tiafoe congratulates Roger Federer after their match at the U.S. Open on Tuesday. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

It was Federer’s 79th career victory at the U.S. Open, equaling Andre Agassi for second-most. Only Jimmy Connors has more, with 98.

For more than a half-hour Tuesday, it appeared as if Federer was still dealing with the after-effects of having tweaked his back during a loss in the hard-court final at Montreal this month. He sat out the following week’s tournament at Cincinnati.

Of the first 20 points won by Tiafoe, only two came via his own winners, a pair of aces. The rest were a result of Federer’s miscues — 12 unforced, six forced — and Tiafoe gladly accepted the first set.

Tiafoe, who is from Maryland and now is based in Florida, is ranked 70th and has never been past the second round at a major tournament.

This was his second match against Federer. Tiafoe pushed Federer to a first-set tiebreaker when they faced each other in March at the Miami Masters before losing in two sets.

“Eventually,” Tiafoe said, “I’ll win more than I lose these.”

Seeds falling fast

With No. 2 Simona Halep’s loss to Maria Sharapova on Monday night and seventh-seeded Johanna Konta also falling, three of the top-seven seeds on the women’s side were gone by the mid-day Tuesday — with Williams not playing because she’s pregnant.

Osaka broke for a 5-3 lead in the first set, then seized control when she broke twice in the second set to open a 4-1 cushion. She finished off the 65-minute victory when Kerber dumped a forehand into the net on match point before quickly departing for the locker room.

It was Osaka’s first victory over a top-10 opponent after she was oh-so-close to beating a top player here last year, blowing a 5-1 lead in the third set and losing to Madison Keys in the third round.

“I just want to play good,” Osaka said. “I played good today, so I want to carry that on to my next match.”

Nadal an easy winner

Rafael Nadal has improved to 13-0 in U.S. Open first-round matches by beating Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-2.

The No. 1 seed dominated after a first set that lasted more than an hour. With rain wiping out most of the day’s play, Nadal became the first man to complete a match Tuesday.

World #1 Nadal easily advances at U.S. Open1:15

With his victory, the two-time U.S. Open champion assured that Roger Federer has to reach the semifinals for a chance to regain the No. 1 ranking.

Federer was to play later Tuesday against American Frances Tiafoe.

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