Australian Open 2018: Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens Among Americans to Lose While You Were Sleeping

Belinda Bencic sent an early shockwave through the Australian Open by dumping last year’s finalist Venus Williams out of the first round with an impressive 6-3 7-5 win on Monday.

The 20-year-old Swiss played the 37-year-old American to perfection, soaking up the fifth seed’s firepower and attacking her wavering serve with abandon under the roof at Rod Laver Arena.

In a tense grand slam opener that felt more like a final, Venus battled to keep touch in an enthralling second set, but Bencic unleashed two blazing forehand winners to close out the match in the 12th game.

The resurgent Bencic will meet the winner of Johanna Larsson and Luksika Kumkhum in the next round.

Sloane Stephens, the world number 13 from Coral Springs, Florida, also fell at the first hurdle at Melbourne Park. The 24-year-old, who won her maiden Grand Slam title at the 2017 U.S. Open, lost in three sets to Zhang Shuai of China. 

Shuai, the world number 34, lost the first set 6-2 but recovered impressively to win the second on a tie-break to level the match. Stephens had a chance to serve out the contest at 5-4 in that second set, but Shuai broke and then won the tie-break 7-2.

That was the prelude to a one-sided third set won 6-2 by Shuai, who eventually cruised home in one hour and 58 minutes. "I'm just going to stay positive and keep working to get back in the best shape and best place possible to do well for my next tournaments," Stephens said in quotes reported by the BBC. The 2013 Australian Open semi-finalist has now lost eight matches in a row at the start of 2018.

Coco Vandeweghe, the 2017 Australian Open semi-finalist, joined Williams and Stephens in exiting in the first round. The 26-year-old from San Diego lost in straight sets to Timea Babos of Hungary.

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