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Grand Slam debutant Osaka advances to third round

Kyodo

Japan’s 18-year-old Naomi Osaka reached the third round of her first Grand Slam on Thursday, defeating 18th seed Ukrainian Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-4 at the Australian Open.

Born to a Haitian-American father and a Japanese mother, the 180-cm Osaka claimed four straight games from 3-1 down in the first set to take the initiative. She broke Svitolina’s serve in the fifth game of the second set and was solid on serve, only losing two break points despite facing 11 in the straight-sets win.

“I was just thinking I have to be consistent and very steady and go for my shots when I have them,” said Osaka.

“It wasn’t really like I had a plan against her. It was more like what I should do. So I wasn’t really focusing on the other side of the court.”

Osaka, born in the city of Osaka but raised in the United States, was well supported by flag-waving Japanese fans in the crowd.

“I always think that they’re surprised that I’m Japanese,” said Osaka. “So like the fact that there was like Japanese flags and stuff, it was like really touching.”

Osaka, ranked 127th in the world. has previously won plaudits from Serena Williams for her aggression, power and talent, and on Thursday she used that power to her full advantage, edging the battle of ground strokes against Svitolina, 27 winners to 17. The Ukrainian had won the only previous meeting between the two, in 2014, in three sets.

Osaka says she feels like her game has grown since that first meeting, saying she is a more mature player now.

“I think back then I was just hitting everything blindly, so I wasn’t really being consistent at all . . . I’m just trying to be really stable right now. So I don’t really feel like my shots have changed that much,” she said.

“When I’m practicing, my dad just tells me to be consistent all the time . . . It’s kind of been drilled into my head to play safer.”

Osaka will face 14th seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in the third round, but wants to keep grounded, despite her excellent performances so far.

When questioned about her expectations for her next match against the two-time Australian Open champion, she said, “I don’t really have any. I just want to play really good. I know that if I play good, then maybe I can win.”

Murray posts quick win

Melbourne Australia AP

Andy Murray raced through his second-round match like he was in a hurry to get somewhere, winning 6-0, 6-4, 6-1 against an Aussie who was playing on Rod Laver Arena for the first time.

With his pregnant wife back in Britain, due to have their first baby next month, world No. 2 Murray doesn’t want to labor too many points as he bids to win the Australian Open title for the first time after losing four finals.

Murray improved his perfect record against Australian opponents to 17-0 when he beat Sam Groth on Thursday. Groth, who boasts the fastest serve in tennis, let it be known just as they were preparing to enter the center court at Melbourne Park that he had never played on the biggest stage at the season’s first major.

“I was like “OK great! That’s good for me,” he said.

Murray, who has one of the best returns of serve in the game, didn’t give him much of a look before closing with an ace — his 10th — in 1 hour, 31 minutes.

He said it was a bonus for him that Groth’s serve wasn’t firing in the first set — when he was broken three times.

Murray, who broke long droughts for British men by winning the 2012 U.S. Open, Wimbledon in 2013 and the Davis Cup last year, has only ever lost once in 14 matches against local players at their home Grand Slam — to Gael Monfils at the 2006 French Open.

No. 32-seeded Joao Sousa beat Santiago Giraldo 6-3, 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 and will play Murray in the next round.

Other big servers had more success than Groth. No. 10 John Isner fired 20 aces and 53 winners in a 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-2) win over Marcel Granollers, and No. 14 Milos Raonic had 24 aces as he fended off Tommy Robredo 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (5), 7-5 in a match containing one service break. No. 23 Monfils beat fellow Frenchman Nicolas Mahut 7-5, 6-4, 6-1.

There was a lengthy delay on Rod Laver Arena in the first match of the day, during Ana Ivanovic’s 6-3, 6-3 win over Anastasija Sevastova.

The 2008 finalist was leading Sevastova 4-3 in the first set when medical personnel rushed to help a spectactor who had fallen on the stairs in the upper level of the 15,000-seat stadium. The players stayed on the court during the break, getting regular updates from tournament officials.