Osaka cruises into second round at Australian Open

Published February 8, 2021, 12:25 PM

by Agence-France-Presse

Japan’s Naomi Osaka hits a return against Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova during their Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 8, 2021. (Photo by William WEST / AFP)

World number three Naomi Osaka started her Australian Open in style Monday with an easy straight-sets victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova as the delayed Grand Slam finally got under way.  

The Japanese star faced a potentially tricky first-round contest against the world number 39, but made light work of the Russian 6-1, 6-2 in 68 minutes.

“I was really nervous coming into this match. I just wanted to play well,” Osaka, who hit 18 winners, told a smattering of spectators on Rod Laver Arena. 

The 23-year-old, seeded three in Melbourne Park, looked physically strong having withdrawn from the warm-up Gippsland Trophy in the semifinals, blaming a long-standing shoulder problem. 

Osaka, whose flashy attire included leggings and pink shoes, skirt and wristbands, won the first four games and continued the momentum as she relentlessly worked Pavlyuchenkova around the court with powerful groundstrokes. 

The three-time Grand Slam winner stretched her streak to 15 matches unbeaten — including the US Open final — dating back 12 months.   

Osaka, who won the 2019 Australian Open, plays former top 10 player Caroline Garcia of France or Slovenia’s Polona Hercog in the second round. 

‘Vintage’ Serena impresses

Serena Williams of the US hits a return against Germany’s Laura Siegemund during their women’s singles match on day one of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 8, 2021. (Photo by William WEST / AFP)

An aggressive Serena Williams started her quest Monday for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title by thrashing Laura Siegemund on day one of the Australian Open.

The 39-year-old, playing an unparallelled 100th match at the tournament, looked sharp and smashed 16 winners in the 6-1, 6-1 romp in 56 minutes. 

“This was a good start, it was vintage Serena,” she said. 

Williams, wearing a striking multi-coloured, one-legged catsuit, was broken in the opening game but hit back immediately and kept her foot on the pedal in a one-sided contest.

She showed no ill-effects of a shoulder injury that ruled her out of the semi-finals of the warm-up Yarra Valley Classic.

Williams has also been battling a lingering Achilles injury first sustained at last year’s US Open, but has been in strong form so far in Melbourne. 

The American, seeded 10th in her 20th Australian Open, needs one more major to equal Margaret Court’s record Grand Slam tally.  

She has not added to her glittering collection since beating her sister Venus in the Australian Open final in 2017 when she was pregnant with daughter Olympia.

Williams, the seven-time Australian Open champion, will play Serbia’s Nina Stojanovic in the second round.