Former World No.1 Naomi Osaka surged through a tricky 6-2, 6-4 victory over rising Czech star Marie Bouzkova to begin her 2020 Australian Open campaign.

“It was really tough for me, trying to control my nerves,” she said during her on-court interview. “I was really glad to finish it in two.”

The No.3 seed was playing her first match in Melbourne since winning her second major title over Petra Kvitova one year ago, and played her best tennis in the crucial moments to advance after 80 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

Osaka arrived in Melbourne as defending champion for a second straight major tournament, having finished her US Open title defense in the fourth round last summer. Looking more at ease than she did in Flushing Meadows, Osaka enjoyed a serene start on Rod Laver Arena, taking on Bouzkova, a former junior US Open champion who pushed 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams to three sets in the semifinals of the Rogers Cup in August, for the first time.

“For me, I’ve never played her before, so it’s tough to play someone you’ve never played in the first round of a Grand Slam,” she trails off, adding with a gasp, “Oh my god, she’s younger than me! So that’s really tough too. I just know that she’s going to become a great player and we’re going to play a lot of really hard matches.”

Bouzkova looked to have Osaka on the back foot when she put down two confident service holds and engineered the first break point of the match. The No.3 seed responded in emphatic form, saving the break point and racing out to a 0-40 lead in the very next game.

Though the Czech youngster pushed things back to deuce, Osaka was undaunted, breaking at her fifth opportunity and promptly taking a 5-2 lead behind her trademark aggression. She ultimately sealed the opening set with a searing cross-court forehand winner – her 13th of the day.

Bouzkova was making her main draw debut at the Australian Open – falling in the final round of qualifying back in 2018 – and continued fighting early in the second set, earning two more break points on Osaka’s serve and staving off one on her own before forging ahead 4-2.

Osaka went on another roll from there, winning three straight games and blasting a powerful backhand to put her within four points of victory. Serving for the match, she held to 15 to the delight of the Aussie crowd.

“You probably didn’t come for me, but thanks for filling up the stadium,” she joked.

Up next for the defending champion is China’s Zheng Saisai, who won the biggest title of her career last summer at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic. Zheng was an early winner on Monday, defeating Russian qualifier Anna Kalinskaya – who stunned former US Open champion Sloane Stephens on Arthur Ashe Stadium last year – in straight sets.

Source: David Kane