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Top-ranked Kerber stunned by Russian teen

Daria Kasatkina hits a return to Angelique Kerber in their women's singles second round match at the Sydney International tennis tournament on Tuesday. (AFP)
SYDNEY: Russian teenager Daria Kasatkina put Angelique Kerber’s Australian Open preparations in a spin with a straight-sets upset win over the world No.1 at the Sydney International on Tuesday.
The 19-year-old, ranked 26, underlined her huge potential with a confident performance to take out the German, 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 in a second-round match played in sweltering conditions.
Only last week Kasatkina held a match point before going down to French Open champion Garbine Muguruza in the second round at the Brisbane International.
While she continues her march, Kerber’s form is a concern ahead of next week’s opening Grand Slam of the year, having also lost to Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the Brisbane International last week.
Kerber, who had a breakthrough 2016, winning two Grand Slams on her way to becoming world No.1, struggled to find any rhythm and her usually strong forehand was astray.
Kasatkina will next play British world No. 10 Johanna Konta, whose formidable serve troubled Australia’s Daria Gavrilova in a 6-1, 6-3 win.
It was a day of upsets in Sydney where temperatures sizzled around 36 Celsius (97 Fahrenheit), with defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and last year’s finalist Dominika Cibulkova both knocked out in the second round.
World No.9 Kuznetsova went out to Russian compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 6-3 while Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard continued her return to form with a 6-4, 6-3 win over the sixth-ranked Cibulkova.
Former Wimbledon finalist Bouchard, who has now won consecutive matches at a tournament for the first time since August, stretched her lead over Cibulkova to 4-1 head-to-head and will face Pavlyuchenkova in the last eight.
World No.27 Pavlyuchenkova, who knocked out Australian No.1 Samantha Stosur in the first round, won in her first career meeting with Kuznetsova.
Ninth-seeded Italian Roberta Vinci was another seed to fall, losing 6-2, 6-3 to veteran Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic.
Danish seventh seed Caroline Wozniacki ousted Yulia Putintseva 6-0, 7-5 and will next face Strycova.

Sharapova to return in Stuttgart

Maria Sharapova will make her return to competitive tennis following her 15-month ban at the WTA clay-court tournament in Stuttgart in April, it was announced on Tuesday.
The 29-year-old five-time Grand Slam winner tested positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.
Her two-year ban, by the International Tennis Federation, was reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and she will play her first match in Stuttgart on April 26 — the day her ban expires.
In the past, Stuttgart has been a happy hunting ground for Sharapova, who has lost just once — to world No.1 Angelique Kerber in 2015 — at the WTA tournament and won the title in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
“I could not be happier to have my first match back on tour at one of my favorite tournaments,” said Sharapova, a former world No.1, in a press release.
“I can’t wait to see all my great fans and to be back doing what I love.”
WTA CEO and Chairman Steve Simon said: “Maria is eligible to return to professional tennis beginning on April 26.
“This will be the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart’s 40th anniversary and I’m sure the fans there will be excited to see her play.”
Sharapova has been given a wildcard to appear in Stuttgart.
“I’m really happy for Maria that she’s back after a long break. Particularly pleasing for me is that it’s going to be our audience that gets to watch her comeback live,” said tournament director Markus Guenthardt.
Kerber will be defending her title in Stuttgart with eight of the world’s top 10 scheduled to play in this year’s tournament.