Osaka, Kvitova win openers in Brisbane

  • Alex Sharp

Four Grand Slam champions graced the grounds of the Brisbane International on Tuesday -- with mixed fortunes.  

With contenders such as Elina Svitolina, Angelique Kerber and Johanna Konta suffering early exits, Tuesday represented a chance for other key names to lay down their claim to the title. 

Major winners Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova, Sloane Stephens and Maria Sharapova all featured on the Stadium Court order of play on Tuesday.

And reigning Australian Open champion Osaka endured a thorough mental and physical test before overcoming world No.23 Maria Sakkari.

Osaka posted a 6-2 6-7(4) 6-3 victory after trailing 0-2 in the deciding set.

“This is both our first matches of the year, so in the first set I think I just got off to a better start and I was able to like apply the things that I wanted to. And then in the second, I think she knew what to expect after a certain point, so she wasn't really fazed by like how hard I was hitting or anything,” said Osaka, after extending her winning streak to 12 matches.

"I think in the second set, I was just complaining a lot in the tiebreaker. I was just trying to calm down and stay positive.

“Then in the third set I think I just wasn't like tired as much because she was the one that was moving more than me.”

The way Osaka banished her negative thoughts and reasserted her authority was impressive, with one shot particularly standing out for the 22-year-old.

"I think just to try as hard as I can every match, because for me I feel like when I do that I somehow end up winning the match."
Naomi Osaka

“I'm really happy with how I served… I was told I hit 16 aces, so that's pretty good for me,” said the two-time Grand Slam winner. 
“Return could be better, but it's not anything that is so extreme that I'm nitpicking at it right now. I think I learned a lot during the match as the match went on, so hopefully that skill kind of hones during this entire tournament.” 

Osaka is renowned for producing her best at the major stage, but the world No.4 is seeking consistency throughout the campaign, to maintain a winning mentality. 

“I think just to try as hard as I can every match, because for me I feel like when I do that I somehow end up winning the match, no matter – oh, that sounds really arrogant. (Rather) I put myself in a position to win the match,” quipped Osaka when speaking of 2020 goals.

TICKETS: catch defending champion Naomi Osaka in action at AO2020

“For me I feel like all I need is like a chance or a couple of chances. I think I just need to believe in myself and fight for every point.”

Meanwhile, Kvitova, who fell to Osaka in last year’s Australian Open final, overcame a slow start to overpower Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 2-6 6-1 6-0 with an emphatic performance over the world No.29.

“It was the first match of 2020, so it was always going to be difficult. After a few months without matches I’m really happy I stayed positive and won in the end,” said the world No.7 after improving her record to 8-4 against the Russian.  

“Before the draw we played a practice match and I lost. I thought ‘oh no!’ It’s always tough playing her, she’s moving so well.”
 
Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, has booked a second round ticket to take on the qualifier Liudmila Samsonova.

The Russian world No.129 fended off a fightback from former US Open champion Stephens in a gusty 6-4 2-6 6-3 triumph.

The 21-year-old, featuring in just a seventh WTA main draw, has played into form having navigated past Kristina Mladenovic and Marta Kostyuk in qualifying.

Brisbane debutant Samsonova went for fearless aggression throughout the contest to topple world No.24 Stephens and hailed a successful 2019 for helping clinch such a victory. 

“Unbelievable. I’m very, very happy. It’s all new for me,” said the ambitious Russian, who qualified for a first Grand Slam last summer at Roland Garros. “Last year was very important for me. I learnt a lot, but I always wanted to get better and better.”

In the last match of the day on Stadium Court, Sharapova won the first set before fading to a 3-6 6-1 7-6(3) loss to American qualifier Jennifer Brady.

Brady next faces world No.1 Ash Barty on Thursday.

Other winners on Tuesday included sixth seed Kiki Bertens, who saw off Dayana Yastremska in three sets, and No.8 seed Madison Keys, who beat Marie Bouzkova to set up a second-round meeting with Sam Stosur.