Australian Open 2022: Muguruza, Kontaveit bow out; Sabalenka survives scare

The surprises started early at the Australian Open, with third-seeded Garbiñe Muguruza becoming the highest-seeded player to exit the women's draw just minutes after No. 6 Anett Kontaveit lost.

Garbine Muguruza of Spain serves to Alize Cornet of France during their second round match at the Australian Open in Melbourne on Thursday.   -  AP

The surprises started early at the Australian Open on Day 4, with third-seeded Garbiñe Muguruza becoming the highest-seeded player to exit the women's draw just minutes after No. 6 Anett Kontaveit lost.

Muguruza never managed to earn a single break point and made a whopping 33 unforced errors, more than twice her opponent's total, in a 6-3, 6-3 loss to Alize Cornet under a bright blue and cloudless sky at Rod Laver Arena on Thursday.

“A little bit surprised about my level. I am a little disappointed, too,” said Muguruza, who won the season-ending WTA Finals in 2021. ”I feel like my shots weren’t as accurate and precise. I feel, also, my aggressive game wasn’t that aggressive today."

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Muguruza is a two-time Grand Slam champion and a two-time major runner-up, too, including making it to the final at the Australian Open in 2020.

Cornet, ranked 61, is appearing in her 63rd career major tournament — and 60th in a row — but never has been beyond the fourth round.

Cornet will get a chance to equal that showing when she plays on Saturday, her 32nd birthday.

She called herself “a little bit (of) a dinosaur".

“I don't know how many years I have left,” Cornet said. “Today was a perfect gift I could give myself and I really hope the journey’s going to go even farther for me.”

No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka served a dozen double-faults in the first set and appeared to be on the brink of a second-round defeat before recovering to hold off 100th-ranked Wang Xinyu 1-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Sam Stosur's 6-2, 6-2 loss to No. 10 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova ended the 2011 US Open champion's 20th, and last, singles campaign at the Australian Open.

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“I’ve done more than I ever thought possible. I dreamed of winning a Grand Slam (singles title), and I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Stosur told the crowd in Kia Arena.

Muguruza said she didn't feel at her best physically and noted that the start of this season was “kind of stressful", because COVID-19 spread through her support team and she was apart from them for two weeks.

Kontaveit, who lost to Muguruza in the title match at the WTA Finals, was beaten 6-2, 6-3 by 19-year-old Clara Tauson of Denmark.

“I just went in there believing I could win, but it wasn’t like I have to win,” said Tauson, who will make her debut in the third round at a major against 2019 Australian Open semifinalist Danielle Collins. “It was more: ‘I can win, but we’ll see what happens.’”

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Sabalenka finished with 19 double-faults, including nine in her first two service games, in her win over Wang. She said she regained her composure during a quick trip to the locker room following the first set.

The US Open and Wimbledon semifinalist from last year said she had “a lot of experience of playing without the serve,” and she'd reassured herself that she had enough other weapons to win “even if you can’t serve.”

Sabalenka, who entered the year's first major with a chance of reaching the top ranking, has made a stuttering start to 2022, with her service woes including a combined 39 double-faults contributing to first-round losses at tuneup events in Adelaide.

She faces No. 31-seeded Marketa Vondrousova, the 2019 runner-up at Roland Garros, who beat Liudmila Samsonova 6-2, 7-5.

No. 7 Iga Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion, No. 19 Elise Mertens, Sorana Cirstea and Maddison Inglis, who beat Hailey Baptiste 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2, were among the other women advancing.

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