Venus, Stephens crash out of Australian Open

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Shapovalov, Rublev make winning starts

Melbourne

World number five Venus Williams and US Open champion Sloane Stephens were high-profile casualties on day one of the Australian Open Monday, but Roland Garros winner Jelena Ostapenko survived.
Williams, who lost in the final to sister Serena last year, was stunned by Swiss star Belinda Bencic, fresh from winning the Hopman Cup with Roger Federer.
The seven-time Grand Slam winner, in her 77th major, struggled against a player who had never before beaten her to go down 6-3, 7-5 and deprive the tournament of one of its biggest names.
It is the first time since 1997 that there will be neither of the Williams sisters in the second round, with Serena not playing after giving birth to her first child.
“I would like to have played someone easier,” said Bencic. “When I was a little girl watching on TV I would never imagine I would play them (the Williams).”
Also out of the opening Grand Slam of the year is American big-hitter CoCo Vandeweghe, a semi-finalist last year at Melbourne Park and Flushing Meadow.
She slumped out to Hungary’s Timea Babos 7-6 (7/4), 6-2.
Stephens’ poor run since winning at Flushing Meadows in September continued, with the 13th seed crashing out to Chinese number two Zhang Shuai, who made the last eight two years ago.
The frustrated American put in an error-strewn performance on an overcast and windy Melbourne day and has now not won in seven matches.
“I’m not going to get too down,” said Stephens after her 2-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-2 defeat.
“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.” The Philadelphia Eagles held their nerve to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 15-10 and advance to within one win of the Super Bowl on Saturday.
A first half touchdown from running back LeGarrette Blount and three field goals from rookie kicker Jake Elliott was enough to see the Eagles home on a frigid night at Lincoln Financial Field.
The top-seeded Eagles will face either the Minnesota Vikings or the New Orleans Saints in Philadelphia next weekend for a place in the February 4 Super Bowl.
The Falcons, desperate for a shot at redemption after losing last year’s Super Bowl to the New England Patriots after leading 28-3, blew a late chance to take the lead as the Eagles held on.
The Falcons had a first and goal situation with less than two minutes to go, but quarterback Matt Ryan was unable to engineer the touchdown that would have given the Falcons a 16-10 lead. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles—who has struggled to convince since replacing injured star Carson Wentz—finished the game with 246 passing yards, making 23 of 30 attempts.—APP

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