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Osaka charges through to third round

Defending champion Naomi Osaka overcame a second-set wobble against Zheng Saisai to impressively advance into the third round.

MORE: AO2020 women’s draw

First up at Margaret Court Arena, the No.3 seed was twice down a service break before turning on a four-game barrage to progress 6-2 6-4 in 80 minutes.

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22 Jan 20
Naomi Osaka vs. Saisai Zheng - Match Highlights (R2) | Australian Open 2020

Naomi takes next step in title defence

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“Uhm… I guess winning?” Osaka answered, on the highlight of the match for her. 

“I got fired up when she got up 4-2 and people started clapping more.”

Because they were clapping for her or her opponent?

“For the drama,” she replied. 

“Yeah, I just wanted to fight. I’ve been in this position on this court before. I didn’t want to go three sets.”

Osaka reiterated that she is more relaxed here than at her maiden major title defence at Flushing Meadows. “I think I got all that out at the US Open,” she said post match.

Constantly bobbing on her toes between points, rolling her shoulders to release tension, smiling at her errors early on, Osaka radiated eagerness for the contest as she jumped out to a 2-0 lead.

It was never going to be that straightforward. Zheng, China’s No.2 and coming off a career-high ranking and maiden singles title in 2019, won their last meeting on Madrid clay nearly four years ago. Utilising her strengths - court coverage and craft - she levelled for 2-all.

Osaka’s greater firepower and shot options kept her in front and proved oppressive for Zheng, who conceded her next service game with two consecutive double faults and went 0-40 down before being broken for the set.

The bespectacled, cerebral Zheng wasn’t going to overpower Osaka and struggled to keep the ball out of her hitting zone. She tried coming to the net, slicing from both wings and counter-attacking. Osaka merely lifted with the threat.

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Zheng Saisai serves against Naomi Osaka

When Zheng carved out a breakpoint on Osaka's first service game in the second set, the Japanese responded with a cracking forehand winner on the sideline and a pair of booming first serves.

But Zheng’s old-school game was making headway. She gained three more chances to break the Osaka serve at 1-all. The first two were squandered with errors, before Osaka gifted the game with two wayward backhands and flung her racquet to the court in disgust. 

It was the first of a flurry of service breaks. When Osaka again fell behind for 2-3 on an overplayed forehand, she went not for racquet-throwing this time but a stony-faced look at her box and a sarcastic racquet-clap.

Serving at 3-2, Zheng was now controlling the points for the first time, pulling Osaka deep and wide and forcing errors. She held to love when Osaka netted an off-kilter backhand. 

At 4-2, with Zheng appearing in control, Osaka again rose with the threat, pummelling her big returns, breaking back to love and dictating play for the win.

If she’s in serene mental space, the 22-year-old Osaka also appears in trimmer physical condition than a year ago, when she took the title in a high-calibre final over Petra Kvitova and became the first Asian to ascend to No.1.

Osaka did her part in setting up a possible headline rematch with Coco Gauff, in another echo of the US Open. Their third-round clash was a blowout to the defending champion but Osaka’s insistence that the 15-year-old join her for the post-match interview was one of the high points of the tennis year. (Gauff is taking on veteran Sorana Cirstea at Melbourne Arena.) Osaka went on to lose her US title in the fourth round to Belinda Bencic.

This time, the titleholder is ready for any opponent. “The only thing that’s changed is people want to beat me more,” Osaka said of life as a defending Grand Slam champion. “I look on it as a nice challenge.”

Naomi takes next step in title defence

Video