• Kyodo

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Kurumi Nara eased past Tamira Paszek of Austria 6-2, 6-2 on Monday in the first round of the Japan Women’s Open.

Nara, ranked 81st in the world, had lost twice to her 105-ranked opponent this year but leveled their career head-to-head at 2-2 with a promising performance, breaking all but one of the Austrian’s eight service games to secure the win in just over an hour at Ariake Tennis Forest Park.

“I’ve been losing to her after missing opportunities on her defensive slice shots, so I made sure I moved to the net to get points from those,” said Nara, who was runner-up in the doubles here last year alongside Misaki Doi.

Nara knows she has things to work on after her second-round loss at the U.S. Open earlier this month, but is looking to enjoy two tournaments held in her homeland, with the Pan Pacific Open to follow next week.

“I had issues with both my serve and return in the U.S. Open, and have been thinking how I can extend rallies,” she said. “But there was no pressure playing at home, my team is bigger here and provides me even greater support. I’ll give my best each day to make this a good tournament.”

Nao Hibino, 76th on the WTA world list, went out 6-2, 6-4 against American Alison Riske.

Hibino recovered a service break to tie the first set 2-2 but was overpowered in the next four games to lose the opener. The 61st-ranked Riske, who had five aces to none from Hibino, made the most of the first-game break in the second set to claim the pair’s first encounter.

“She started the game better than I was expecting. I had confidence with my returns but it was almost like she was hitting two first serves and I couldn’t show my strength,” said Hibino, who had a first-serve success rate of just 57 percent compared to Riske’s 74.

“Her returns were good too so I had the pressure to serve better and that led to mistakes. I should have kept calm but instead I tried to match her power.”

Wildcard Eri Hozumi pressed Chinese sixth-seed Zhang Shuai but fell short in a 7-6 (7-4), 1-6, 6-3 defeat.

In their first meeting, the 197th-ranked Hozumi matched Zhang’s ground strokes with her strong forehand and broke in the fifth and seventh game to lead 5-2 in the first set. But Zhang, 49th on the WTA world list, fought back with two breaks to take the set to a tiebreak, which she won 7-4.

Hozumi kept testing her higher-ranked opponent with deep ground strokes and cruised to take the second set 6-1.

The Japanese opened the final set well but seemed to tire as backhand errors crept into her game. She eventually dropped the set 6-3 to lose the match in three.

“I was facing a top-50 opponent today and didn’t know what to expect, but felt I could match her once I saw my play was on the same level as hers,” said Hozumi.

“I was 2-0 up in the final set but my energy level dropped in the next game, and I couldn’t bring it back up again. Stamina is one big issue I have to work on.”

In other matches, Louisa Chirico of the United States edged eight seed, Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine, 6-4, 7-5, while another seed fell when Slovakia’s Jana Cepelova won 6-1, 6-4 against American Madison Brengle.

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