Day 3 preview: Defending champs warming to the task

  • Dan Imhoff

Defending champions Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic may have navigated contrasting paths through their opening matches of Australian Open 2020, but the warning signs for prospective opponents are equally ominous.

Neither has anything less than back-to-back majors at Melbourne Park on their radars, following favouritism-firming – if at times testing – first-round triumphs.

MORE: Day 3 schedule of play 

Japanese third seed Osaka admitted to nerves returning to Rod Laver Arena 12 months after winning her second straight hard court Grand Slam title over Petra Kvitova in a thrilling three-set final.

Barring a second-set blip, she pulled through in straight sets against rising Czech Marie Bouzkova with Chinese world No.42 Saisai Zheng her next obstacle at Rod Laver Arena. The 25-year-old bespectacled Zheng claimed one of the pair’s two prior meetings, but it was five years ago and counts for zip given Osaka’s rapid emergence since.

MORE: AO2020 women’s draw

And there is an added good-luck charm in Osaka’s favour this week – her dad, watching her compete in a Grand Slam for the first time from the player’s box.

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Osaka is calmer as a defending champion than she was in New York last year

“He's just superstitious,” Osaka said. “Before when he used to sit in my box I would just look at him and complain a lot, but I have matured over the past, like, three or four years he hasn't sat in my box.

“He was like my coach during Tokyo and Beijing. He was sitting in my box the entire time. He has a good winning streak by sitting in my box.”

As one of the highest-ranked unseeded players in the draw, Jan-Lennard Struff posed a tricky opening task, and it took Djokovic four sets to stifle the German’s heavy shot-making and earn his 900th career win on Monday night.

“I am just starting,” the Serbian joked about his milestone. “I am obviously very proud of all the achievements, but at the same time I try to remind myself of how grateful I have to be, still playing on a very high level the sport that I truly love.”

The seven-time champion and No.2 seed starts a heavy favourite in his second-round clash with Japanese wildcard Tatsuma Ito, a player only a year younger but separated by some 144 spots in the rankings.

Five other Grand Slam champions take the court in the second round on Wednesday, headed by Australian top seed Ashleigh Barty. A slow start against Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko had a full house at Rod Laver Arena fearing the worst on Monday night, but the 23-year-old flipped the match on its head to run away with a three-set victory. She faces world No.48 Polona Hercog for the first time, following the Slovenian’s victory over Swede Rebecca Peterson

Those who dared suspect Roger Federer would come in rusty having not played any lead-up events for the first time were soundly proven wrong on Monday.

MORE: AO2020 men’s draw

The Swiss third seed made light work of Steve Johnson and will next meet 41st-ranked Serbian Filip Krajinovic, a five-set winner over French qualifier Quentin Halys on Tuesday.

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Federer was imperious in his dismissal of Johnson

Serena Williams concedes her pursuit of equalling Margaret Court’s all-time record has weighed heavily since returning from the birth of her daughter, Olympia. But it didn’t show in a solid first-round hit-out against Anastasia Potapova. The seven-time Australian Open champion next faces Slovenian would No.70 Tamara Zidansek for the first time.

Persistent rain wreaked havoc on Day 1 scheduling, but dual Wimbledon champion Kvitova lapped up the conditions. The Czech seventh seed thrives indoors so with the roof closed on Margaret Court Arena, she set about annihilating compatriot Katerina Siniakova for the loss of just one game. Spanish world No.97 Paula Badosa stands between Kvitova and a place in the third round.

Former No.1 and Australian Open 2018 champion Caroline Wozniacki launched her final event before retirement in style on Monday, but the Dane will have her work cut out to prolong her stay in Melbourne when she meets in-form Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska, a runner-up in Adelaide last week. The 19-year-old Yastremska beat Wozniacki on a hard court in Cincinnati last year.