Tennis

Naomi Osaka gets Australian Open title defense off to winning start

AP, Kyodo

Naomi Osaka won the opening match for her dad at the Australian Open. Serena Williams won hers for her daughter.

The first two matches on center court in Melbourne were all about families for two champions.

For something new, Osaka’s father, Leonard Francois, was in the crowd watching as the defending champion reeled off the last four games after dropping serve for the only time to beat Marie Bouzkova 6-2, 6-4.

Next up, Williams started her bid for a first major title as a mom when she beat 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-3.

Osaka thanked the crowd after her match, saying “You probably didn’t come for me, but thanks for filling up the stadium. There was one person in particular who was there for her.

“My dad watched my match from my box for the first time during a Grand Slam,” Osaka, who won back-to-back majors at the 2018 U.S. Open and last year’s Australian Open, tweeted. “I feel so happy.”

Osaka displayed the best and worst of her game in the 80-minute match at Rod Laver Arena.

She went on a run of five straight games to close out the first set in windy conditions. But the second stanza was tighter, with Osaka giving up a break to go behind 4-2 thanks to a wild unforced error at an inopportune moment.

With more and more unforced errors creeping in, it looked like 59th-ranked Bouzkova could even the first match between the two at one set apiece, but Osaka stepped up like a two-time Grand Slam champion should to immediately break back and reel off the last four games.

“It was really tough for me, trying to control my nerves. I was really glad to finish it in two,” Osaka said during her on-court interview.

“I’ve never played her before, and it’s tough to play someone you’ve never played in the first round of a Grand Slam. Oh my god, she’s younger than me. So that’s really tough too,” she said.

Williams has won the title seven times in Australia, and is aiming for an all-time record-equaling 24th Grand Slam singles title. She hasn’t added to her career tally since victory at the 2017 Australian Open, and then becoming Olympia’s mom. She managed to end one drought last week when she won the title in Auckland, New Zealand — her first since the Australian title three years ago.

“I hadn’t been able to win as a mom, so it was nice to finally be able to win a tournament with a 2-year-old now,” Williams said of her Auckland win. “I’ve been pretty close, but it was special for me and for her. I hope for her.”

Other seeded players advancing on the women’s side included No. 13 Petra Martic and No. 14 Sofia Kenin. Martic had a 6-3, 6-0 win over Christina McHale and Kenin beat Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan 6-2, 6-4..

On the men’s side, Denis Shapovalov lost an ill-tempered match 6-3, 7-6 (9-7), 6-1, 7-6 (7-3) to Marton Fucsovics, who has made a habit of taking out the No. 13 seed in Melbourne.

In other men’s results, Sam Querrey beat 25th-seeded Borna Coric 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 and No. 8 Matteo Berrettini advanced 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 over wild-card entry Andrew Harris.

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