Naomi Osaka will be hoping to be fit for the Australian Open after the reigning champion withdrew from the Melbourne Summer Set 1.

Osaka, who won the most recent of her four grand slam titles last year at Melbourne Park, has looked in fine form this week in her first appearances since returning from the break she took from tennis last year.

The top seed beat Alize Cornet, Maryna Zanevska and Andrea Petkovic en route to the semi-finals, but could not compete against Veronika Kudermetova on Saturday, citing an abdominal injury.

Osaka explained that her body had taken a hit from playing such intense matches in consecutive days, and she instead is looking to rest and recover ahead of the first grand slam of the season, which starts on January 17.

"Sad to withdraw due to injury from my match today, my body got a shock from playing back to back intense matches after the break I took," Osaka tweeted.

"Thank you for all the love this past week [Red heart] I’ll try to rest up and I’ll see you soon!"

Osaka's injury has prevented what looked to be an enticing showdown with Simona Halep, who guaranteed a place in a WTA Tour singles final for a 13th successive season by beating Chinese teenager Zheng Qinwen 6-3 6-2.

Halep's first final came in 2010 and she has taken just a week to get back into her stride after an injury-ravaged 2021 season.

The Romanian, a two-time grand slam champion, went into the week ranked at world number 20, her lowest position at the start of a season since 2013.

However, she has now reached at least the semi-final stage in three successive tournaments, and she will fancy her chances against third seed Kudermetova, who is into her third singles final.

Ash Barty set a new personal best for aces in a match as she rifled 17 past Sofia Kenin on the way through to the Adelaide International 1 semi-finals.

Reigning Wimbledon champion Barty won 31 of 32 points on first serve in a ruthless 6-3 6-4 victory over the 2020 Australian Open winner.

It sets up a tantalising last-four clash with Poland's defending champion Iga Swiatek, who is a frequent practice partner for Australian home favourite Barty.

Explaining her stunning serving performance, Barty said: "I think towards the end Sofia was kind of leaning one way or the other, and I was able to kind of get up and hit my spots."

Facing former French Open winner Swiatek will be a major early-season test for the world number one, with the Warsaw-born 20-year-old fending off former grand slam winner Victoria Azarenka 6-3 2-6 6-1 in Friday's quarter-final.

The other semi-final in Adelaide will see Misaki Doi take on Elena Rybakina after both won in three sets to get there, seeing off Kaja Juvan and Shelby Rogers respectively.

Melbourne Park is staging two tournaments this week, and there is the prospect of a starry final in Melbourne Summer Set 1, with Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep both through to the last four.

Top seed Osaka beat experienced German Andrea Petkovic 6-1 7-5, while second seed Halep had to scrap for a 6-2 5-7 6-4 win against Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland.

Osaka took inspiration from Petkovic's fight in the second set of their contest. Quoted on the tournament website, she said: "It was really cool how she didn't give up for any point, so I just felt like I should do the same thing and see what happens."

Halep said her encounter with Golubic had been "really difficult", adding: "I didn't really trust that I can win this match, but I fought to the end, and I'm very proud of this."

Saturday's semi-finals of Melbourne Summer Set 2 will seed Daria Kasatkina take on Amanda Anisimova, while Ann Li plays Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

Naomi Osaka marked her return to tennis with a hard-fought win in Melbourne and declared her love for competing had been reignited during a break from the sport.

The former world number one beat French player Alize Cornet 6-4 3-6 6-3 on Tuesday, in her first match since a third-round US Open defeat to eventual runner-up Leylah Fernandez.

The Japanese star said after that Flushing Meadows loss in September that she would put her tennis career on hold indefinitely.

Across several months, Osaka has adjusted her personal and professional priorities, pointing to the joy of San Francisco sleepovers with friends and reconnecting with normal life.

She believes there is a way to focus on the joy of competing, rather than the strains of performing in the public eye that caused her so much consternation last season, and there were glimpses of Osaka's best in the win over world number 61 Cornet at the WTA 250 Melbourne Summer Set 1 tournament.

Osaka pulled out of the 2021 French Open after one match and then elected not to play Wimbledon, as she addressed the importance of protecting her mental health.

She was reluctant to take part in media conferences, finding them harrowing at times, but on Tuesday the 24-year-old embraced the stage and explained how she had surprised herself by coming back to the court so soon.

"I actually really thought I wasn't going to play for most of this year," Osaka said. "I'm really happy with myself that I love the sport that much because I literally said that I was unsure when I was going to play after the US Open and I'm here right now.

"In the break I was feeling like I didn't know what my future was going to be. I'm pretty sure a lot of people can relate to that. Of course, you never know what the future holds, but it was definitely an indecisive time. But I'm really happy to be sitting here right now."

 

Osaka had envisaged a spell of globe-trotting – without a tennis racquet in her luggage – but the pandemic left her wary of following that route.

In the end, she settled on enjoying a quiet life for a while, saying: "I kind of stayed at home. My friends live near San Francisco, so I was driving to go see them and stay over at their house and bother them quite a few times.

"I feel like that's also an experience that I haven't been able to have in my life, just based on the fact that I play tennis and I travel a lot and I haven't been able to have sleepovers and stuff like that. It was cool to be able to do that."

Osaka said she has just "one major goal for 2022".

"For me, I just want to feel like every time I step on the court I'm having fun," she said. "I can walk off the court knowing that even if I lost, I tried as hard as I could. Also, I have a goal in the press room, that I'm never going to cry again, so hopefully that works out in my favour.

"I'm the type of person that cared a little bit too much about the results and the ranking and stuff like that, and I just need to find a way to enjoy the game again. Because that's the reason why I was playing in the first place."

Quoted on the WTA website, Osaka said opening up to others about the tribulations of life on the circuit helped her to adjust her goals.

"During the off-season I just hung out with my friends and talked to my family a lot. I felt like that was a way of decompressing the pressure I had on myself. Then I just slowly started to regain the feeling of love that I had towards the game," she said. "It's not like it ever completely went away, but I felt like it got overshadowed by a lot of emotions that I was feeling just by constantly playing year after year. Sometimes it's just good to remember why you're playing and stuff."

Top seed Osaka's win came on Rod Laver Arena, the main show court at the Melbourne Park complex that will stage the Australian Open later this month, when Osaka will be defending her title. Fellow seeds Liudmila Samsonova, Bernarda Pera and Alison Riske were beaten.

At the concurrent Melbourne Summer Set 2 event, American top seed Jessica Pegula was ousted in the first round by Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu, losing 7-6 (8-6) 6-3.

The Adelaide International 1 event contains the strongest field this week, and Tuesday saw straight-sets wins for Coco Gauff and a pair of 2020 grand slam winners in Iga Swiatek and Sofia Kenin.

Eighth seed Elina Svitolina had a bad day though, the Ukrainian losing 5-7 6-4 6-3 to Russia's world number 130 Anastasia Gasanova.

World number one Ash Barty will start her 2022 season at the Adelaide International along with eight of the other current 10 top players in the world.

Barty has held top spot in the women's rankings since September 2019 and collected five titles – including Wimbledon – in the 2021 season but missed the French Open with a hip injury.

She also opted to not play in the season-ending WTA Finals in Mexico due to coronavirus-enforced quarantine concerns that could disrupt her preparation for the following campaign.

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) confirmed on Friday that Barty would begin her 2022 season in Adelaide on January 2, along with defending champion Iga Swiatek, WTA Finals victor Garbine Muguruza and Roland Garros winner Barbora Krejcikova, as the world's elite players prepare for the Australian Open.

The entry list for the WTA 500 tournaments also includes Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Barbara Bencic, who finished runner-up to Swiatek in 2021, former world number one Karolina Pliskova and US Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez.

The field boasts 12 major trophies between them, but three grand slam winners will kick-start their seasons in Melbourne the day after.

Naomi Osaka, who is aiming to defend her title at the Australian Open, gets her preparations underway in the Melbourne Summer Set.

Two-time major winner Simona Halep and reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu will play in the Melbourne Summer Set.

The trio are among 20 of the top 50 ranked players in the world for the two WTA 250 tournaments starting on January 3, with the entry list split between the competitions the week before matches start.

Raducanu will feature in just her eighth Tour-level event, and her fourth tournament since winning her first major, while Osaka will be appearing for the first time since an early defeat in the third round of the US Open to Fernandez.

Novak Djokovic has been included in the official entry list for the 2022 Australian Open, with Tennis Australia adamant that no loopholes are being explored.

The world number one, who has won nine of his 20 grand slam titles in Melbourne, has not yet disclosed his COVID-19 vaccination status, meaning there is doubt over whether he will be able to participate.

Every person competing or attending the grand slam next month will need to have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus.

However, despite the uncertainty, the 34-year-old was named in the official list of players for the tournament draw.

Djokovic had already been named in Serbia's team for the ATP Cup, which is to be held in Sydney, leading to speculation that he could enter Australia by travelling directly to New South Wales, which has different COVID-19 restrictions to the state of Victoria, and may then seek a medical exemption to get around the rules applying to unvaccinated travellers.

James Merlino, Victoria's deputy premier, responded to these reports, which also suggested Djokovic had the backing of Tennis Australia.

"My view on this is really clear and really simple," Merlino said on Wednesday. "Everyone's looking forward to the Australian Open and everyone who will attend – spectators, players, officials, staff – everyone is expected to be fully vaccinated.

"They're the rules. Medical exemptions are just that – it's not a loophole for privileged tennis players. It is a medical exemption in exceptional circumstances if you have an acute medical condition."

Tennis Australia responded to Merlino's comments with a statement of their own.

"Any suggestion that Tennis Australia is seeking 'loopholes' within this process is simply untrue. Adjudicating on medical exemptions is the domain of independent medical experts. We are not in a position to influence this process and nor would we," the statement read.

"Any application for a medical exemption must follow strict government guidelines based on ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) clinical advice. This is the same process that applies to any person wanting to enter Australia."

While Djokovic's participation is unclear, Serena Williams is a big-name absentee. The 40-year-old, who is one shy of matching Margaret Court's record tally of 23 grand slams, had been expected to play in Melbourne.

Roger Federer had already confirmed his absence, but Rafael Nadal is set to compete for the first time since August.

World number two and US Open champion Daniil Medvedev takes his place in the draw, as does 2020 Australian Open finalist Dominic Thiem.

Australian world number one Ash Barty headlines the women's field, with Naomi Osaka, US Open winner Emma Raducanu and WTA Finals champion Garbine Muguruza also in the draw.

Bianca Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion, has decided to skip the event to focus on her mental wellbeing.

Naomi Osaka has expressed her concern over the situation of Peng Shuai, who has not been heard from publicly since accusing China's ex-vice premier of sexual assault.

Peng, a Wimbledon doubles champion in 2013, posted allegations against Zhang Gaoli on Chinese social media site Weibo last week.

The post, along with all of Peng's other content, has since been removed from the site.

Multiple reports suggested the 35-year-old had subsequently not been seen or heard from, and the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) called for a full investigation into the matter.

There has so far been no response from the Chinese government to the allegations.

However, a spokesperson for the ministry of foreign affairs informed reporters he was not aware of the situation.

"I have not heard of the issue you raised," the spokesperson said via a widely released statement. "This is not a diplomatic question."

Now Osaka, a four-time major champion and one of the biggest names in the sport, has used her platform to question the situation.

"Hey everyone, not sure if you’ve been following the news but I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused," Osaka wrote in a statement published to her official Twitter account.

"Censorship is never ok at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok. I'm in shock of the current situation and I'm sending love and light her way."

Osaka concluded her post with the hashtag: "#whereispengshuai".

On Sunday, WTA chairman Steve Simon addressed the matter in a statement that said: "The recent events in China concerning a WTA player, Peng Shuai, are of deep concern.

"As an organisation dedicated to women, we remain committed to the principles we were founded on – equality, opportunity and respect.

"Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored. Her accusation about the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving a sexual assault must be treated with the utmost seriousness.

"In all societies, the behaviour she alleges that took place needs to be investigated, not condoned or ignored. We commend Peng Shuai for her remarkable courage and strength in coming forward.

"Women around the world are finding their voices so injustices can be corrected.

"We expect this issue to be handled properly, meaning the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship.

"Our absolute and unwavering priority is the health and safety of our players. We are speaking out so justice can be done."

Osaka's comments follow on from men's world number one Novak Djokovic expressing his concern over the situation when speaking to the media earlier this week.

Djokovic said: "I don't have much information about it. I did hear about it a week ago.

"Honestly, it's shocking that she's missing, more so that it's someone that I have seen on the tour in the previous years quite a few times.

"It's not much more to say than hope that she will be found, that she's OK. It's just terrible. I can imagine just how her family feels that she's missing."

Naomi Osaka is going to play tennis again and expects to feed her itch to return to the tour "soon".

Osaka said in the wake of her shock US Open third-round defeat to teenager Leylah Fernandez that she would take a break from the sport.

"I honestly don't know when I'm going to play my next tennis match. I think I'm going to take a break from playing for a while," Osaka told her post-match media conference following that loss.

She subsequently pulled out of Indian Wells but the four-time grand slam champion, who withdrew from the French Open back in May to protect her mental health, does not anticipate her absence being an extended one.

"I know I'm gonna play again, probably soon because I kind of have that itch again," Osaka told HBO's 'The Shop'.

"But it wouldn't really matter to me if I won or lost. I'd just have the joy of being back on the court.

"Just to, like, you know, that I'm doing it for myself."

Explaining her unhappiness on the court, Osaka added: "I started to feel like that power was being taken away from me.

"And the way that I felt, like, I wasn't playing to make myself happy and I was more concerned about … what would people say about me.

"I used to love the competition and just being competitive. Like if I were to play a long match, the longer it was the more fun it was for me.

"And then I just started to feel – recently – the longer it was the more stressed out I became. But I just needed a break to go within myself."

Former world number one Naomi Osaka unsurprisingly withdrew from next month's Indian Wells Masters, having flagged a break from tennis following her US Open meltdown.

The tournament confirmed 2018 champion Osaka's absence on Wednesday, with the Indian Wells Masters scheduled to take place from October 4-17 after the 2020 edition was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Osaka's US Open title defence came crashing down in a remarkable 5-7 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 third-round capitulation at the hands of eventual finalist Leylah Fernandez earlier this month.

Up a set and serving for the match at 6-5 on Arthur Ashe Stadium, four-time major champion Osaka lost her cool and composure after throwing her racquet three times in an unsuccessful second-set tie-break.

Amid boos in New York, Japanese star Osaka was also warned after hitting a ball into the crowd at Flushing Meadows.

After the surprise exit, Osaka told reporters she planned to "take a break from playing for a while."

She added: "I feel like for me recently, like, when I win I don't feel happy. I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don't think that's normal. I didn't really want to cry.

"I feel like… this is very hard to articulate. I feel like I'm kind of at this point where I'm trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don't know when I'm going to play my next tennis match [tearing up]. Sorry."

It comes following a difficult couple of months due to mental health concerns as a result of "long bouts of depression" since winning the 2018 US Open.

Osaka withdrew from May's French Open having won her first-round match, after she was fined and threatened with further punishment – and possible expulsion from the grand slam – for skipping obligatory media duties.

She subsequently pulled out of Wimbledon before returning for the Olympic Games, though she suffered a surprise loss on home soil in Tokyo and was reduced to tears during a news conference in Cincinnati.

 

Leylah Fernandez revealed how the energy of the Flushing Meadows crowd helped power her to a stunning comeback win over Naomi Osaka at the US Open. 

Reigning champion Osaka appeared on course to progress when up a set and serving for the match at Arthur Ashe Stadium, only to let the opportunity slip away. 

The world number three lost her serve and then also her composure in the tie-break that followed, throwing her racquet on more than one occasion as Fernandez prevailed to force a decider. 

The Canadian teenager broke immediately at the start of the third set and retained that advantage through to the finish, allowing her to complete a famous victory in New York. 

"I wasn't really focused on Naomi, I was focused on my game and what I needed to do," Fernandez told the media. 

"Having the crowd there, supporting me, backing me up after every point, it was amazing. It gave me the energy to keep fighting, keep working, keep running for those balls that she hit.

"I was just glad that I was able to put on a show for everyone who came to watch."

The 18-year-old also explained how she has always had a competitive streak, adding: "From a very young age, I knew I was able to beat anyone who was in front of me.

"Even playing different sports, I was always that competitive and saying I was going to win against them, win against my dad in soccer, even though that was impossible, I've always had that belief, tried to use that in every match when I go on. I guess today that belief came true."

Osaka announced in her post-match media duties that she plans to "take a break from playing for a while", as well as apologising for her outbursts on court.

She received a warning for hitting a ball into the stands but appeared set to launch a fightback of her own in the deciding set, only for the impressive Fernandez to hold firm.

"I've watched her win the US Open, I've watched her win the Australian Open the very next year – just seeing her, learning from her, has helped shape my game," Fernandez said of Osaka.

"She is a great example for anybody on Tour, and all the little girls in the world.  

"I'm just glad I had the opportunity to play against her, show everyone I am also able to compete against the best players out there."

Naomi Osaka's short-term future appears away from the tennis court after the tearful former world number one said she plans to "take a break from playing for a while" following her shock US Open elimination.

Osaka's US Open title defence came to a remarkable end after imploding in Friday's surprise 5-7 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 loss to teenage sensation Leylah Fernandez.

Up a set and serving for the match at 6-5 on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Osaka lost her cool and composure after throwing her racquet three times in an unsuccessful second-set tie-break.

Amid boos in New York, Osaka was also warned after hitting a ball into the crowd and while the four-time major champion tried to dig herself out of a hole, she crashed out in incredible fashion.

It comes following a difficult couple of months due to mental health concerns as a result of "long bouts of depression" since winning the 2018 US Open.

Osaka withdrew from May's French Open having won her first-round match, after she was fined and threatened with further punishment – and possible expulsion from the grand slam – for skipping obligatory media duties.

The Japanese star subsequently pulled out of Wimbledon before returning for the Olympic Games, though she suffered a surprise loss on home soil in Tokyo and was reduced to tears during a news conference in Cincinnati.

During an emotional post-match news conference, Osaka told reporters: "I'm going to say what we said, I think, like, in the hallway. How do I go around saying this?

"I feel like for me recently, like, when I win I don't feel happy. I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don't think that's normal. I didn't really want to cry.

"I feel like… this is very hard to articulate. I feel like I'm kind of at this point where I'm trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don't know when I'm going to play my next tennis match [tearing up]. Sorry."

Osaka – who was bidding to become the first woman to defend the US Open since Serena Williams in 2014 – added: "I think I'm going to take a break from playing for a while."

Typically reserved and quiet, Osaka was uncharacteristically frustrated on court – the 23-year-old immediately left the court and emerged with a towel over her head before the start of the final set.

On her outburst, Osaka said: "I'm really sorry about that. I'm really sorry about that. I'm not really sure why.

"I was telling myself to be calm, but I feel like maybe there was a boiling point. Like normally I feel like I like challenges. But recently I feel very anxious when things don't go my way, and I feel like you can feel that. I'm not really sure why it happens the way it happens now.

"It's basically why. You could kind of see that. I was kind of like a little kid."

Naomi Osaka's quest for back-to-back US Open crowns came to a shock end, the defending champion imploding in a remarkable 5-7 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 loss to teenage sensation Leylah Fernandez.

Up a set and 6-5, Osaka had the chance to close out the third-round contest before the four-time major champion suffered an epic meltdown on Arthur Ashe Stadium, where fans booed the titleholder.

Osaka – typically reserved and quiet but in the spotlight amid her mental health concerns after withdrawing from the French Open, having skipped Wimbledon – threw her racquet three times in the unsuccessful second-set tie-break on Friday.

The Japanese star received a warning after hitting a ball into the crowd in the final set and while she tried to dig herself out of a hole, 18-year-old Canadian Fernandez completed a stunning upset in New York.

Fernandez showed no fear in her first career meeting with Osaka, going toe-to-toe against the former world number one.

There were no breaks of serve through nine games – Osaka serving to stay in the set at 5-4 and she did so easily before flicking the switch.

Osaka broke to love in the very next game, reeling off nine successive points to take the opening set.

In the third round of the US Open for the first time and with a 1-2 record against top-10 players, Fernandez was not overawed on the big stage.

Behind her big first serve and powerful baseline hitting, Fernandez ensured the second set followed a similar pattern as Osaka was prevented from racing away with the match.

It appeared as though the second set would go down the same path as the first after Osaka broke for a 6-5 lead.

But Osaka imploded on centre court – after failing to serve out the match, she lost her composure in the tie-break, throwing her racquet on numerous occasions as Fernandez forced a deciding set with ease.

Osaka immediately left the court and emerged with a towel over her head before the start of the final set, however, she still looked off her game, broken in the opener.

Continuing to struggle, Osaka was then given a warning for hitting the ball into the crowd, though she boosted her confidence by holding serve and avoiding falling 3-0 behind.

But Fernandez's sole break point was all she needed, sending the defending champion home, much to the delight of the crowd.

 

 

Data slam: Fernandez steps up

Her only top-10 victory came against Belinda Benic at the 2020 Billie Jean Cup, having lost to Elina Svitolina and Sofia Kenin last year. But Fernandez claimed the unlikely scalp of Osaka on Friday. The result also ended Osaka's bid to come the first woman to defending the US Open since Serena Williams in 2014.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Fernandez – 28/24
Osaka – 37/35

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Fernandez – 6/2
Osaka – 15/2

BREAK POINTS WON

Fernandez – 2/5
Osaka – 2/5

Naomi Osaka was due to face Olga Danilovic on Wednesday, but the defending US Open champion was handed a walkover into the third round. 

Osaka, who defeated Marie Bouzkova in the first round to start her title defence at Flushing Meadows, is hunting her fifth grand slam title and third in New York. 

Serbian youngster Danilovic, who is being mentored by ATP world number one Novak Djokovic, defeated American Alycia Parks in straight sets on Monday but had to pull out of her second-round tie with Osaka due to a viral illness. 

However, the 20-year-old stressed she had not tested positive for COVID-19. 

"Hi everyone… I am so sad to have to withdrawal [sic] from my match this morning. I have been feeling unwell these past few days dealing with a non-COVID related viral illness," Danilovic wrote in an Instagram post. 

"I was really looking forward to playing against Naomi on Arthur Ashe Stadium today, but [it was] not to be this time. 

"I just want to say [a] big thank you to medical staff here [at the] US Open and [to] everyone for your support and I cannot wait to be back in New York at this amazing tournament next year." 

Osaka will face Leylah Fernandez in the third round on Friday after the Canadian beat Kaia Kanepi 7-5 7-5. 

Another of the big names, Simona Halep, also progressed, with the two-time grand slam winner seeing off Kristina Kucova 6-3 6-1. 

Defending US Open champion Naomi Osaka passed her opening-round test, producing a powerful performance against Marie Bouzkova 6-4 6-1 on Monday.

All eyes were on Osaka following a difficult couple of months due to mental health concerns as a result of "long bouts of depression" since winning the 2018 US Open.

Osaka withdrew from May's French Open having won her first-round match, after she was fined and threatened with further punishment – and possible expulsion from the grand slam – for skipping obligatory media duties.

The Japanese star subsequently pulled out of Wimbledon before returning for the Olympic Games, though she suffered a surprise loss on home soil in Tokyo and was reduced to tears during a news conference in Cincinnati.

But as fans returned to Flushing Meadows for the first time in two years after the 2020 event was played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, Osaka looked comfortable under the Arthur Ashe Stadium lights with the likes of former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and Hollywood star Alec Baldwin in the crowd.

Bouzkova kept pace with Osaka in the opening set, not overawed by the occasion, but she came unstuck on serve in the 10th game.

While fending off one set point, Bouzkova was unable to save another, slicing a backhand into the net as Osaka closed out the set on her opponent's racquet.

With a set under her belt having reeled off 21 winners in the opener, Osaka stepped it up a gear – winning seven consecutive games before Bouzkova avoided a bagel.

Bouzkova continued to battle but it only delayed the inevitable as Osaka continued her quest for a fourth US Open crown and fifth slam title.

 

Data slam: Osaka on track to follow in Serena's footsteps

The 23-year-old needed one hour, 33 minutes to book her spot in the next round. Osaka is looking to become the first woman to win consecutive titles at Flushing Meadows since 23-time major champion Serena Williams claimed three in a row from 2012 to 2014.

Osaka is the only woman to win at least one major title over the past four seasons, claiming the Australian Open in 2019 and 2021, as well as the US Open in 2018 and last year.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Osaka – 34/23
Bouzkova – 10/8

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Osaka – 4/1
Bouzkova – 2/2

BREAK POINTS WON

Osaka – 3/6
Bouzkova – 0/8

Defending US Open champion Naomi Osaka believes she could have better handled her decision not to participate in media conferences at the French Open.

Osaka withdrew from the French Open having won her first-round match, after she was fined and threatened with further punishment – and possible expulsion from the grand slam – for skipping obligatory media duties.

The four-time grand slam champion had confirmed before Roland Garros that she would not be taking part in post-match news conferences, suggesting her mental health was not helped by having to attend the mandatory interviews.

Osaka, the world number three, stated she has had "long bouts of depression" since winning the 2018 US Open title.

The 23-year-old subsequently pulled out of Wimbledon, but returned as one of Japan's great hopes for the Tokyo Olympics.

However, she suffered a surprise defeat to Marketa Vondrousova, while her preparation for Flushing Meadows also took a hit with a last-16 loss to Jil Teichmann in Cincinnati earlier this month.

Reflecting on her decision in Paris, Osaka, who won her second US Open title in 2020, told reporters: "I feel there's a lot of things that I did wrong in that moment.

"But I'm also the type of person that's very in the moment.

"I think there's a lot of things that I learned to do better. Of course, I don't feel the same situation will happen again.

 

"Whatever I feel, I'll say it or do it. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing.

"I would say, maybe think it through a bit more, in the way that I didn't know how big of a deal it would become."

A few days prior to her defeat to Teichmann, Osaka broke down in tears during her first news conference since she pulled out of Roland Garros.

Yet the Queens-raised star was more composed during her media duties on Friday, as she aims to cap off what has been a difficult 2021.

"I think the biggest memory that comes back to me is being a little kid, running around the entire site," said Osaka, who will take on Marie Bouzkova to get her title defence started.

"I don't know if that may be the reason why I play so well here, but there's definitely a lot of nostalgia.

"I know I haven't played that many matches. But actually I feel pretty happy with how I'm playing."

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