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Tuesday October 26th, 2021 2:38PM

Defending champ Kenin loses in 2nd round at Australian Open

By The Associated Press
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — American Sofia Kenin's bid to repeat as champion at the Australian Open ended Thursday when she lost in the second round to big-serving Kaia Kanepi 6-3, 6-2.

Kanepi hit 10 aces, including on match point, and had 22 winners to 10 for Kenin, who was erratic with her strokes and went 0 for 7 on break-point chances.

Kenin's run to her first Grand Slam title a year ago helped her break into the top 10 for the first time, and she entered this year's tournament ranked a career-high No. 4.

Lots of upsets were anticipated, however, in a tournament where routine have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, and three of the top nine seeded women have already lost. Kenin joined No. 8 Bianca Andreescu and No. 9 Petra Kvitova on the sideline.

Kanepi, a 35-year-old Estonian, improved to 13-39 against top 10 players. She ended Aryna Sabalenka’s 15-match winning streak last week at a tuneup tournament.

“I served really well today," Kanepi said. "I think this helped a lot. My game plan was to play aggressive, as I normally do.”

Serena Williams remains the last woman to defend a Grand Slam title — at Wimbledon in 2016.

No. 1-ranked Ash Barty avoided an upset, but she blew a big lead in the second set and survived a shaky tiebreaker to beat fellow Aussie Daria Gavrilova 6-1, 7-6 (7).

Barty is trying to become the first Australian to win the women's title at Melbourne since Chris O’Neil in 1978.

“It’s a different challenge every single day,” Barty said. “It’s trying to be the best I can every single day, whatever that level is.”

Other winners included former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova and American Shelby Rogers.

Feliciano Lopez, at 39 the oldest player in the men’s draw, rallied past No. 31 Lorenzo Sonego 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4. Lopez is appearing at his 75th consecutive Grand Slam singles event, a men’s record.

Barty lost only 10 points in the opening round, and her match against Gavrilova was equally lopsided until the wobbly finish. She led 5-2 in the second set but was broken twice serving for the victory.

In the tiebreaker Barty lost several ugly points. Gavrilova, a wild card, failed to convert two set points and committed unforced errors to end the final three rallies.

The two friends then shared a hug at the net.

“When you play another Aussie, rankings go out the window, experience goes out the window,” Barty said. “Typically you know each other so well. It’s always going to be a tricky match.”

Rogers reached the third round at the Australian Open for the first time by beating Olga Danilovic 6-2, 6-3. Rogers, 28, came into the tournament with a career record of 1-4 in Melbourne, but her ranking and fortunes have been on the rise of late.

She reached the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open for the first time last September, and her year-end ranking was a career-best No. 58. Rogers was sidelined for 14 months by a knee injury sustained in early 2018, and her ranking at the end of that year was 780th.

She had little trouble with Danilovic, a qualifier from Serbia ranked 183rd. The small crowd on Court 3 included Novak Djokovic, who sat behind the baseline shouting encourage to his fellow Serb.

Pliskova, seeded sixth, advanced by beating American Danielle Collins 7-5, 6-2. Pliskova lost serve twice in a seesaw first set but pulled it out and then pulled away to beat Collins, a 2019 semifinalist at Melbourne Park.

Pliskova has won 65 matches in Grand Slams but is still seeking her first major title. She was runner-up to Angelique Kerber at the 2016 U.S. Open.

No. 11 Belinda Bencic outlasted Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, and No. 18 Elise Mertens defeated Zhu Lin 7-6 (8), 6-1.

In men's play, No. 7 Andrey Rublev swept Thiago Monteiro 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (8).

___

More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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