MATCH POINT: Kerber dismisses Sakkari

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A pair of three-time major champions shined at night to close out a jam-packed Monday at Cincinnati’s Western & Southern Open, as Angelique Kerber and Andy Murray passed their opening tests.

In what will likely prove to be one of the toughest first-round matches on paper this season, Kerber blitzed Maria Sakkari, 6-2, 6-2, to kick off her tournament. Both are Grand Slam semifinalists in 2021.

When the draw was made, Sakkari was ranked No. 18, with Kerber just three spots behind her, but the lefty created separation by applying pressure to convert six breaks of serve from 13 opportunities. After 69 minutes of play, Kerber sealed the victory on her third match point when Sakkari’s forehand landed well wide.

“It's always tough to play against Maria. She's played such a great year so far,” Kerber, a two-time finalist, said in an on-court interview. “It's never easy to go out there so late, so I was just trying to focus and enjoy the night session.”

Kerber clashes with No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina next.

Murray is now 9-4 lifetime versus Gasquet (2-1 in Cincinnati).

Murray is now 9-4 lifetime versus Gasquet (2-1 in Cincinnati).

Taking the court ahead of the German, Murray also executed his game plan with margin to reverse the outcome of Richard Gasquet’s 6-4, 6-4 victory here two years ago. Their 2019 meeting marked the beginning of Murray’s singles comeback from a right hip resurfacing procedure.

The 34-year-old, who captured his maiden ATP Masters 1000 crown here in 2008, soaked up the occasion to play under the lights again by taking greater initiative against the Frenchman.

“It's amazing. They were saying it's the 16th year I've been here. I don't think I've played any tournaments more than that,” the wild card entrant said afterwards. “I always enjoy coming back. They support the tournament unbelievably well from the first round through to the final.

“I got a lot of free points on my serve and I thought I was taking control of the rallies when I had the opportunity. It was a good match.”

In other notable results, No. 11 seed Petra Kvitova took down 2019 titlist Madison Keys, 7-5, 6-4; Jannik Sinner and Diego Schwartzman celebrated their 20th and 29th birthdays in style with a respective wins over Federico Delbonis and Dan Evans; and Paula Badosa staved off five match points to edge Petra Martic, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (9); .

Jennifer Brady, Mackenzie McDonald, Shelby Rogers and Alison Riske flew the flag for home fans in advancing.