Photo: Susan D. Russell

It was not an easy day at the office for Russia’s Alina Zagitova. While the reigning Olympic champion won the ladies short program, the victory came as a relief to her and a surprise to others.

Zagitova opened her “Phantom of the Opera” with a planned triple Lutz-triple loop combination, but after landing the Lutz she singled the loop. A solid double Axel and a triple flip followed along with Level 4 spins and footwork. She scored 68.90 points to take the lead. “I thought I have to do all the other elements clean. The combination was the first element and I still had all the other elements,” said Zagitova.

Yuna Shiraiwa of Japan skated into second with 63.77 points, barely edging Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx (63.17) by 0.60 of a point. Shiraiwa executed a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, a triple flip and double Axel in her program to “Nightmare” and “On Board.” However, two of her spins and the footwork sequence were graded Level 2. “I am happy to land the combination. That was the focus for this season, so I’m very happy I did it,” the 16-year-old said.

Hendrickx was forced to withdraw from Skate America after the short program due to illness, but so far she is making the most of this second opportunity. She opened her program with a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, but the second jump was deemed under-rotated as was the flip later in the program. Hendrickx earned Level 4s for the spins and footwork sequence and landed in an unexpected third place. “It wasn’t perfect, but I can be very happy,” said the 19-year-old from Arendonk. Hendrickx will celebrate her 20th birthday on Monday.

Russia’s Stanislava Konstantinova placed fourth with 62.56. Emmi Peltonen of Finland skated into fifth with 59.90 points, followed by Daria Panenkova of Russia in sixth (58.23).

It was not a day Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto will remember with joy. The 18-year-old Kobe native was expected to challenge Zagitova for the title. However, two falls left her in a distant seventh with 57.26 points. Sakamoto was in tears as she left the ice.