ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Ashleigh Barty’s string of impressively executed passing shots came up short on Thursday night.
The Australian, who finished the previous night as the No. 1 player in the world, was forced to settle for a 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (8-6) loss to Portugal’s Andreja Klepac in the second round of the U.S. Open.
“I feel like she has a real game that you can never really give up on. She was a new player this year but she was a winner in qualifying,” Barty said. “She’s aggressive and it’s a fun match to play because she’s making you always do something.
“I’m very excited to get it out of the way and try to feel good for my first-round match, against Lauren Davis on Monday.”
Barty, 19, won the event’s rookie of the year award last year. She won her first WTA title on the Atlanta circuit earlier this year, and she dropped her only two tournaments this year — the round of 16 at Wimbledon and the semifinals in Rio.
This fall, Barty hasn’t played well — losing in the first round of the Tokyo and Indian Wells events. But she believes her lackluster run this fall is attributable to the fact that she’s been playing “so much tennis” since she won at Indian Wells.
“It’s definitely a healthy break if you come off a runner-up or a third-round exit,” she said. “It’s definitely been refreshing for me and I’m excited to come out and play. I have a lot of confidence at the moment.”
She will face American Davis, a qualifier, on Monday.
The 24-year-old Klepac, ranked 47th, needed more than two hours to dispatch Barty. The score is not indicative of how tightly contested this match was.
Klepac served well and won two tiebreakers to advance to the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time. She’s not exactly a household name in tennis circles but is comfortable on any surface.
Her game — using a forehand slice and sharp-angled groundstrokes — was aesthetically pleasing to watch and at times contained flashes of brilliance.
Her biggest problem was committing unforced errors — 19 in the second set — which helped derail her.
After wiping away tears from a double-fault at 5-4 in the second set, she closed the match with a 136 mph ace. Klepac called it “one of the best serves I’ve ever had,” and said Barty will have to be at her best to upset her on Monday.
“The way I’m going to approach it is I’m going to be aggressive, I’m going to go for it,” Klepac said. “Even though I’m seeded, it’s a U.S. Open and anything can happen.”
Former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova was ousted from the tournament with a 6-1, 7-5 loss to Italian Camila Giorgi. The world No. 36 broke Sharapova in the second game and set the tone from the start of her first-round match.
Sharapova never looked comfortable, particularly with the shot selection, which often reached right into the ground, as opposed to flying through the air. She committed a total of 28 unforced errors while winning only four points on Giorgi’s first serve.
“There was never a moment where I felt I got things back in the match,” Sharapova said. “She seemed to be under control from the start and dictating in all of the important points. …
“Just disappointing, but you have to stay positive. I wasn’t good enough today.”
Sharapova’s exit makes it the worst Grand Slam year of her career — at the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open — and leaves Serena Williams as the only member of the world’s top four still standing.
Sharapova, who turns 30 next month, has competed in only six tournaments this year due to a doping suspension.
“I’m here to try to play and win matches and play well,” she said. “I’m trying my best.”