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Wang Qiang steals show at Novak-less Australian Open

China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-18 09:37
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China's Wang Qiang waves to the crowd after winning her first-round match against American 18th seed Coco Gauff at the Australian Open in Melbourne on Monday. REUTERS

China's Wang Qiang led China's charge at the Australian Open on Monday, producing a huge upset to send 18th seed Coco Gauff packing in the first round at Melbourne Park.

Wang Qiang capitalized on an error-strewn performance by American teenager Gauff to triumph 6-4,6-2, while there were also wins for Chinese women Zheng Qinwen and Wang Xiyu as the tournament got underway minus deported men's world No 1 Novak Djokovic.

The 19-year-old Zheng defeated Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(5), while Wang Xiyu, 20, overcame Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia 7-5, 6-3.

Wang Qiang's win, however, was undoubtedly the biggest shock of the opening day.

Gauff, the youngest player in the draw at 17, was dominated by the world No 110 in just 73 minutes of action on Margaret Court Arena.

Gauff's only bright spot in a one-sided second set came as she saved four match points from 5-0 down.

She was comprehensively beaten by Wang Qiang for the first time in three meetings between the pair, melting down to make 38 unforced errors.

"You know I lost two times against her last year so I just tried my best to focus on court," said Wang Qiang.

The former Chinese No 1, who famously knocked out Serena Williams en route to the fourth round at Melbourne Park two years ago, has dropped outside the top 100 since reaching a career-high singles ranking of 12 in September 2019.

Wang Qiang is coached by Australian great Pat Cash, but joked that the 1987 Wimbledon champion has not forced her to wear his trademark checkered headband during matches-not yet anyway.

"Only during practice, yeah," she laughed. "I just do what he tells me. I think I did really well today, right?"

Osaka cruises

Meanwhile, Naomi Osaka began her title defense smoothly with a routine 6-3, 6-3 victory over Camila Osorio.

Osaka said the drama involving nine-time champion Djokovic's deportation on the eve of the tournament was something for the men's players to worry about.

"To be completely honest, it didn't really affect me," Osaka said. "My goal, like even before this whole situation, is to just focus on myself more, what I need to do to become better."

With so much attention on the 11-day saga of Djokovic's failed attempt to participate in the year's first Grand Slam, the returns of Osaka and Rafael Nadal have been overshadowed.

Osaka wasn't bothered by that. Nadal didn't seem to be put off by it either, renewing his bid for a record 21st Grand Slam singles title with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 win over Marcos Giron.

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