Kristina Mladenovic recovered from a second-set back spasm issue to prevail in three sets and knock out 14th seed Angelique Kerber 7-5, 0-6, 6-4 on Day One of this year’s US Open.
The 26-year-old French international, ranked 54 by the WTA ahead of this Grand Slam, had only prevailed once in the pair’s five previous meetings to this point.
So you could understand the tension and overriding feeling of helplessness which arrived when Kristina took a five-minute medical timeout on-court, midway through the second set. Receiving physio treatment twice meant she was suddenly vulnerable after winning a tough first set. It affected her serving and mobility, something Kerber was able to seize upon – though this match was a back-and-forth affair anyway, even before her back began flaring up.
Mladenovic’s patchy singles form in recent years almost mirrors that of Kerber, albeit on a different scale altogether. The three-time Grand Slam champion showed moments of brilliance but too few winners (35 to Kiki’s 46) and frequent errors at crucial junctures proved costly against a rejuvenated opponent who recovered well after being bagelled in the second set.
She saved a whopping 10 of 12 break points in the first and third sets, which ultimately proved pivotal. After two hours and 23 minutes, Mladenovic held firm to serve for the match and prevail in what could have been a banana skin final set at 5-4 up.
Post-match, she said: “Of course it’s a big thing for me to beat Angelique, for whom I have such big respect. She’s such a great champion, with lots of experience in Grand Slams – it’s never easy to beat such a player.
It feels like a very big match that could be deep in the tournament, but it’s just the first round. I really want to enjoy [this] win and focus on moving on, continuing in this tournament.”
Statistic: Mladenovic’s best win percentage at a Grand Slam is the US Open, with 53% over the course of her ten years as a professional to date. Her joint-best GS result also came in the US in 2015, where she suffered a three-set quarter-final defeat by eventual runner-up Roberta Vinci.
Kiki will be hoping for consistency and another win in her next match, where she faces fellow Frenchwoman Fiona Ferro on Wednesday. Ferro won in straight-sets (6-3, 6-4) against Daria Gavrilova earlier in the day.
Kerber has now suffered first-round exits at her last three tournaments and during the post-match presser, revealed frustration she couldn’t play at a level evident in recent training sessions. It’ll be an important time for reflection, especially with the reported introduction of a new head coach joining her team sooner rather than later as the German aims to arrest her poor form.