Osaka suffers shock early exit and Stephens falls in the battle of former US Open champions

New York City, New York - A crowd favorite and one of the tournament's highest seeds both crashed out of the US Open at the third round stage on Friday.

Angelique Kerber moves on to the Round of 16 after winning her third-round match against Sloane Stephens.
Angelique Kerber moves on to the Round of 16 after winning her third-round match against Sloane Stephens.  © IMAGO / Paul Zimmer

Two former US Open champions clashed in the third round of the women’s singles draw when American Sloane Stephens (28), the 2017 winner, took on Germany’s Angelique Kerber, who lifted the trophy in 2016.

It was Kerber who outlasted Stephens in three sets, 5-7, 6-2, 6-3, to move onto the Round of 16. She’ll face Canada’s Leylah Fernandez next.

In a match approaching two hours, the first set between these two familiar foes was the most hard-fought.

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It was Stephens who came out on top, but Kerber quickly recovered and then settled in to dominate the next two sets for only the second victory over Stephens in seven all-time matchups.

Kerber and Fernandez’s fourth-round match is set for Sunday.

Osaka yet again faces early disappointment on the tennis court

Leylah Fernandez shakes hands with Naomi Osaka after their third-round match on Friday night.
Leylah Fernandez shakes hands with Naomi Osaka after their third-round match on Friday night.  © IMAGO / UPI Photo

But it was Naomi Osaka's defeat that grabbed the headlines, owing to a huge upset in her match against the relatively unknown 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez from Canada. The tennis world definitely knows who she is after a superb 5-7, 7-6, 6-4 win.

In a primetime match that lasted just over two hours, Osaka’s struggled at times during the first set, but still prevailed. However, Fernandez rose to another level and was able to keep her opponent on her toes throughout the rest of the match, often stifling and visibly frustrating Osaka.

Osaka’s never found her rhythm, perhaps because she hadn’t played since her opening round match on Monday. The second round walkover against Olga Danilović may have done more damage than good.

This is the latest in a series of disappointing losses for Osaka, who was knocked out of third-round matches in Cincinnati and at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

As for her future plans? There might be an extended break from tennis on the cards, judging by her post-match comments.

Since the next Open tournament isn’t scheduled until January, we could have seen the last of Osaka this year.

Cover photo: IMAGO / UPI Photo

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