Osaka speeds into second round

  • Michael Beattie

First-time Grand Slam champions have often stumbled at their next major in the past, but not Naomi Osaka. 

The reigning US Open champ was calmness personified as she dispatched Poland’s Magda Linette 6-4 6-2 on Tuesday night to further underline her reputation as one to watch over the next two weeks at Australian Open 2019 – for fans and rivals alike.

The 21-year-old, who will face Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek in the second round, has come a long way in the three short years since her eye-catching Grand Slam debut at Melbourne Park. Then a teenage qualifier, who took out No.18 seed Elina Svitolina en route to the third round, she returned this year a Grand Slam champion and single-digit seed – and certainly looked the part against a potentially tricky opponent.

“I had a lot of fun,” admitted Osaka, who found time to test her movement and shoulder, and to try out some new tactics against Linette, all while soaking in the atmosphere on her Rod Laver Arena debut.

“It's not often that I get to play a night match at Rod Laver. For me, it was the first time. I didn't really feel nervous either, which was a bit unexpected; I thought that I would, being that it's the first match. I just felt like I had a lot of fun today.”

Osaka knew to be wary of Linette, who had handed her a three-set defeat at Washington during the build-up to her US Open triumph. Both players made a shaky start on serve, Osaka claiming the odd break in three to move into a 3-2 lead. 

The Japanese is a joy to watch in attack mode, eyeing winners from all corners of the court behind her thumping serve. Winning 24 of 25 points behind her first serve, the match was firmly on the No.5 seed’s racquet, with 30 of her 60 points won claimed with winners, including six aces.

Osaka struck the ball sweetly in her opening-round outing

With Linette serving to stay in the opener at 5-3, Osaka cupped the view before her face between her hands, willing herself to focus. The world No.80 escaped the game with some solid serving of her own, but it was a brief reprieve.

From there, Osaka was in cruise control. The 21-year-old allowed herself a cheeky grin after catching Linette cold with a drop shot shortly before breaking for a 2-1 lead, then crushed a forehand return for a clean cross-court winner en route to a second break for 5-2, sealed with another scorching drive.

“I have been practicing dropshots a lot just for fun,” Osaka said.

“I decided to play a few in the match because I think when I get in the position to either hit a winner, people start backing up anyways, so I think that in a way could also be considered a good shot to hit.”

First serve points won (%)
96 Naomi Osaka
58 Magda Linette

Linette saved Osaka’s first match point with a scorcher of her own, drawing applause from her opponent, before the No.5 seed hammered an ace with just 58 minutes on the clock. 

Greater tests no doubt lie ahead for Osaka, but as a statement of intent it was an impressive day at the office for the softly-spoken tyro, whose campaign continues with a first showdown against Zidansek.

“I've never really seen her play,” said Osaka, who is one of a dozen players who began this Australian Open within range of the No.1 ranking come February. “I think I need to watch a lot of matches tomorrow, just try to figure out what I'm going to do.

“I'm aware of people saying anyone in the top 10 can be No.1 right now. But for me, that's not really my goal. I just want to play well in this tournament; I'll see how my ranking is after. Rankings were never that much of a concern for me.”