Emma Raducanu on Tuesday became only the third defending champion to exit the US Open in the first round, while four-time winner Rafael Nadal overcame an early scare against a player ranked 198 in the world.
Raducanu, 19, slumped to a 6-3, 6-3 defeat to veteran French player Alize Cornet, who is competing in a record 63rd consecutive Grand Slam.
Nadal saw off Australian wild card Rinky Hijikata 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 to register his 65th career win in New York.
Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine and three-time runner-up Victoria Azarenka of Belarus also made it through to a politically-charged clash.
Raducanu has struggled in the spotlight of being a Grand Slam winner, failing to get beyond the second round of any of this year’s previous three majors.
“In a way I’m happy, because it’s a clean slate. The target will be off my back,” she said.
World No. 3 Nadal, who is chasing a 23rd Grand Slam title and a third for this year, arrived at the tournament having played just one match since an abdominal injury forced him to forfeit his Wimbledon semi-final.
He next faces Fabio Fognini, the Italian who famously defeated him from two sets down in the third round in 2015.
“I’m very happy to be here. It’s a long time that I played here. I thought that maybe I’d never be back,” said 36-year-old Nadal, whose last appearance in New York saw him win the 2019 title.
Two-time champion Naomi Osaka was knocked out in the opening round for the first time in seven visits, losing 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 to Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.
Four-time major winner and former world No. 1 Osaka has won just twice on tour since April.
“I tried as hard as I could. I wanted to play without my back being in pain. I only really started serving two days ago,” Osaka said.
Today’s action is likely to be dominated by the clash between former world No. 1 Azarenka and Kostyuk, a vocal critic of the presence of Russian and Belarusian players on tour.
Only last week, Azarenka was axed from an exhibition on the eve of the US Open aimed at raising money for Ukraine.
Kostyuk, 20, said she turned down the chance to play in protest at the presence of Azarenka, and the 33-year-old Belarusian was swiftly dumped from the event.
Belarus is a close ally of Russia and has allowed Moscow to use its territory to launch attacks into Ukraine.
World No. 1 and French Open champion Iga Swiatek eased past Italy’s Jasmine Paolini 6-3, 6-0 in just 67 minutes.
Victory was a relief for the 21-year-old Pole who had suffered early losses at warm-up events in Toronto and Cincinatti
As the temperature soared beyond the 30°C mark, 42-year-old Venus Williams and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina were high-profile casualties.
After seeing Serena Williams stave off impending retirement by reaching the second round on Monday, her older sister was eyeing an 80th career win at the tournament.
However, Venus Williams, who first played the US Open in 1997, was defeated 6-1, 7-6 (7/5) by Belgium’s Alison van Uytvanck.
“Three letters is W-I-N. That’s it. Very simple,” said two-time champion Venus Williams, now ranked 1,504, when asked to explain why she keeps playing.
However, she remains without a victory since Wimbledon last year.
Rybakina lost 6-4, 6-4 to French qualifier Clara Burel, ranked a lowly 131, on the back of 37 unforced errors.
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