• AFP-JIJI

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Naomi Osaka overcame a slow start for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Coco Gauff on Wednesday to reach the third round of the WTA Cincinnati Masters.

Top seed Ash Barty also advanced, bouncing back from a first-round loss at the Tokyo Olympics with a 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) win over Britain’s Heather Watson.

Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam winner, is playing her first event since the Games, where she went out in the third round.

Gauff won their previous meeting, in the third round of the 2020 Australian Open.

Osaka said she was trying various things during the early stages of the match.

“The first set was an experiment,” Osaka said. “I was trying to see what was going on as I’ve not played that many matches.

“I was just examining here and trying to stay calm, trying to keep a level head.”

Osaka said victory “means a lot to me, especially coming off Tokyo. She’s not my favorite to play. It’s very straining mentally. But this is a win I can definitely congratulate myself for.”

Prior to competing at the Olympics, Osaka’s last match was at the French Open, which came shortly after she announced she would skip the mandatory post-match news conferences, which she said damaged her mental health.

That vow lasted through first round and she withdrew after organizers threatened her with fines and the possibility of further sanctions. She also skipped Wimbledon.

The issue flared again in her first news conference this week, with a straightforward question causing her to burst into tears before composing herself and getting through the session.

On Wednesday, she was calm and composed in her responses to reporters.

“I was wondering why was I so affected, I guess, like what made me not want to do media in the first place,” Osaka said.

“I’m wondering if I was scared because sometimes I would see headlines of, like, players losing and then the headline the next day would be like a collapse or they’re not that great anymore.”

Osaka will next play Swiss player Jil Teichmann, who beat American Bernarda Pera 6-1, 6-4.

Barty will face two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka.

“I feel good,” Barty said. “I feel like I’m ready to play. I’m as close to 100% as I’m ever going to get.

“I feel comfortable and ready and excited to be playing here in Cincinnati and knowing that we’re moving on to New York, one of the best tournaments and one of the best atmospheres in the world, that brings excitement.”

Angelique Kerber defeated Elina Svitolina 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 while former U.S. Open winner Bianca Andreescu of Canada lost to Karolina Muchova 6-4, 6-2 in the second round.

Azarenka defeated Alison Riske 6-2, 7-5 while fellow former Grand Slam champions Petra Kvitova and Jelena Ostapenko both won.

Kvitova stopped Veronika Kudermetova 6-2, 6-4 while Ostapenko advanced 6-7 (2-7), 5-4 when American Jennifer Brady retired.

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