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TENNIS | Naomi Osaka Begins Title Quest with Victory over Zheng Saisai

The four-time Grand Slam singles champion built a 5-0 lead in the first set and maintained a consistent level of play throughout the first-round match.



Naomi Osaka hits a return in her first-round women's singles match at the Tokyo Olympics on July 25.


Thirty-six hours after lighting the Olympic cauldron at the New National Stadium during the Opening Ceremony, Naomi Osaka was back in the spotlight in more familiar surroundings: on the tennis court.

The world No. 2 jumped out to a commanding lead and hit her shots with consistency and verve in a clinical 6-1, 6-4 victory over China’s 52nd-ranked Zheng Saisai in their first-round match on Sunday, July 25 at Ariake Tennis Park.

The 23-year-old Osaka’s impressive blend of speed and power were a potent combination.

She approached the net with purpose and capitalized on chances near the court’s center, winning 10 of 13 net points, while Zheng was 0-for-3.

Osaka won the first set in 32 minutes, then faced a more formidable challenge from her Chinese opponent in the second set.

But Osaka’s strong second serves (13-for-13) along with no double faults kept her in a good position to win throughout the 87-minute duel. She also built the foundation of her victory with her serve by wracking up a 76% success rate on points won on first serves.

What’s more, Osaka had eight backhand winners to Zheng’s two, and five forehand winners to her foe’s two.

The four-time Grand Slam singles champion, who built a 5-0 lead in the first set, didn’t look rusty despite a long layoff. She hadn’t played since pulling out of the French Open on May 31.

“More than anything else, I'm just focused on playing tennis," Osaka told reporters after the match. "The Olympics has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, so I feel like the break that I took was very needed. I feel definitely a little bit refreshed and I'm happy again."

Asked about the experience of lighting the Olympic cauldron, Osaka referred to it as the “greatest honor of my career.”

She added: “I’m super excited to be here,” before using an interesting phrase to describe what it was like for her at times on the court in her first-ever Olympic match. She said it was like being "an elephant on ice."

Osaka is scheduled to meet Switzerland’s 50th-ranked Viktorija Golubic in the second round at a TBA time.

Barty Eliminated, Murray Pulls Out

Earlier Sunday, women’s world No. 1 Ash Barty of Australia lost 6-4, 6-3 to 48th-ranked Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain in the first round.

Also Sunday, two-time reigning Olympic men’s champion Andy Murray withdrew from the singles competition on Sunday due to a thigh strain. The Brit was scheduled to face Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime.

"I am really disappointed at having to withdraw but the medical staff have advised me against playing in both events," Murray said in a statement. "I have made the difficult decision to withdraw from the singles and focus on playing doubles with Joe."

Murray and doubles partner Joe Salisbury won their first-round match on Saturday, July 24.

In other news, 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medalist Kei Nishikori defeated Russian Andrey Rublev 6-3, 6-4 in a men's first-round encounter that got underway in the late afternoon.

In an earlier men’s match, Russian Karen Khachanov eliminated Yoshihito Nishioka 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward's [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.