Osaka has tough 2020 opener; Serena cruises in ‘solid’ start - GulfToday

Osaka has tough 2020 opener; Serena cruises in ‘solid’ start


Serena Williams returns to Camila Giorgi at the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, on Tuesday. Associated Press

Japanese star Naomi Osaka came from a break down in the third set to overcome Greece’s Maria Sakkari in the first round of the WTA Brisbane International on Tuesday.

Sakkari sniffed an upset when she won the second set in a tiebreak then broke Osaka’s opening service game of the third set, but the former world number one dug deep and won 6-2, 6-7 (4/7), 6-3 in a two-hour opening-round clash.

Osaka, the tournament’s third seed, said she was pleased with her first match of the year, after she was forced out of the WTA Finals in October with a shoulder injury.

“I’m really happy with how I served -- I had to retire from my last match because of my shoulder thing, so I wasn’t really sure how I was going to serve today,” she said.

“But I was told I hit 16 aces, so that’s pretty good for me.”

Sixth-seeded Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens also progressed in three sets, beating Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska 6-4, 1-6, 6-3. Eighth seed Madison Keys served brilliantly in her impressive 6-3, 6-2 win over Czech qualifier Marie Bouzkova. Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova caused an upset when she beat former US Open champion Sloane Stephens.

Samsonova, playing only her seventh main draw WTA tournament, recorded her first victory over a top-30 player with her 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 win.

Elsewhere at the Auckland WTA Classic, Serena Williams found her power game after a sluggish start as she overcame qualifier Camila Giorgi to open her 2020 season with a straight-sets victory.

With an eye on the Australian Open later in the month, the 38-year-old worked her way into a blistering performance that proved too much for the 1.7 metre (5ft 6in) Italian. She described her first match since losing the US Open final in September as “solid” rather than spectacular.

“Spent a long time off from tournament play, match play, so solid is pretty good. It’s a great start to build on,” she said after sealing her 6-3, 6-2 victory with her eighth ace against the 99th-ranked Giorgi.

Serena, originally drawn to play two-time Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova before the Russian pulled out due to a virus, said her preparation had been helped by playing doubles with Caroline Wozniacki the previous evening which allowed her to adapt to the blustery Auckland weather.

Auckland is an important tournament for the veteran as she prepares for the Australian Open later in the month with her eyes firmly on a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.

The top five seeds were all in action on Tuesday and along with Williams and Anisimova, Petra Martic, defending champion Julia Goerges and Caroline Wozniacki also progressed to the second round.

Second seed Martic from Croatia had trouble at the start against 21-year-old American Usue Arconada and dropped the first set before prevailing 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

 Wozniacki cruised against New Zealander Paige Hourigan with a 6-1, 6-0 victory in 53 minutes while Germany’s Goerges came from 2-5 down in the second set to beat Greet Minnen of Belgium 6-1, 7-6 (7/4).

Meanwhile, at the Shenzhen Open, reigning champion Aryna Sabalenka and top seed Belinda Bencic suffered shock defeats on Tuesday, dealing a setback to their Australian Open preparations.

World number 11 Sabalenka lost 6-4, 6-4 to the Czech left-hander Kristyna Pliskova as the Belarusian’s title defence came to a juddering halt in the second round.

Earlier, on a day of upsets in southern China, world number eight Bencic was defeated in her opening match of the year. The Swiss was a surprise loser to the 58th-ranked Anna Blinkova, the Russian coming back from a set down to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

“I didn’t feel great in the beginning of the match,” said Blinkova, 21, after claiming the biggest scalp of her career.

Agence France-Presse

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