MELBOURNE, Australia. In the first set, Naomi Osaka’s newfound love for the game meant Madison Brengle was not having fun at all in the second round of the Australian Open.
The defending champion conceded just four points in Wednesday’s first four games and beat the winners on the right, seemingly at will, when she took the score to 6-0 in just 20 minutes.
The second set began with Brengle celebrating the serve as if she had finished a long distance race, but gradually the strategy of the 54th-place American in the game brought Osaka to a stage where she finally realized a break point opportunity – after how she missed her first nine chances.
This prompted a change in former No. 1 ranked Osaka, who reacted by pulling away immediately and scoring the final nine points to complete a 6–0, 6–4 victory. She finished with 37 winners and 32 unforced errors.
Osaka will face Amanda Anisimova, a 20-year-old American who beat Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic 6-2, 7-5. The winner will most likely take on Ash Barty, who took first place in the fourth round.
Osaka won the Australian Open last year, her fourth Grand Slam title, but then withdrew from the French Open and missed Wimbledon as she took a break for her mental health. She was then ejected early at the US Open.
After a long break in the off-season, she is undefeated in five matches in Australia this year.
When asked how she evaluates her form, Osaka replied that she did not fit that way.
“Honestly, I try not to do that,” she said in a televised interview in court. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist. If I compare myself with the past, I will never be satisfied.
“The goal for me is just to have fun… (and) I think we’re getting there.”
Since the draw for the first major tournament of the year was made, much attention has been focused on a potential meeting between Osaka and Barty, the 2021 Wimbledon and 2019 French Open champions, who aims to be the first Australian since 1978 to win at home. championship.
Barty was front and center as the tournament celebrated its first Indigenous Day, albeit by only 52 minutes when she beat 142nd-placed Lucia Bronzetti 6-1, 6-1.
“It was a pleasure for me to participate in this in the way that I feel most comfortable,” said Barty, an Indigenous representative, of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander day in Australia. “On the tennis court, I express myself as an athlete, so I can express myself as a person.
“On a day when we bring cultures together, people bring together… it was great for me to be able to play a small part doing what I love.”
Rafael Nadal didn’t get it all his own way in the subsequent match at Rod Laver Arena, needing five match points before he beat German qualifier 126 Yannick Hanfmann 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.
No. 6 Nadal, aiming for a record 21st men’s Grand Slam singles title, scored two match points on Hanfmann’s serve and two more on his own before finally claiming a place in the third round when his opponent served long right hand.
Nadal converted four of his 16 break points, including one of eight in the third set, but only encountered two break points on his serve and deflected both of them.
For the 35-year-old Nadal, after fatigue, injury and illness shortened his 2021 season after the French Open, time on the court matters most.
“I said here before the start of the tournament that everything will not be perfect, but every day that I spend on the court increases the chances of playing better,” he said. “After two matches, it’s time to take a step forward. I’m delighted with it.”
Nadal shares a men’s record of 20 singles titles with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, and this time he has none of them in the draw.
Federer will miss the Australian Open while he continues to recover from injury. Djokovic, a nine-time Melbourne Park champion, was deported after an 11-day saga he ended up losing because he didn’t follow Australia’s strict COVID-19 vaccination rules.
Miomir Kecmanovic, who was originally set to face Djokovic in the first round, advanced to the third with a 7-6(7), 7-5, 7-6(8) victory over Tommy Paul.
Olympic champion Alexander Zverev, Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini, No. 17 Gael Monfils and No. 23 Reilly Opelka moved forward in straight sets.
In two marathon five-sets, the 14th Denis Shapovalov beat Kwon Sung-woo 7-6 (6), 6-7 (3), 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-2, 25 minutes in the arena in 4 hours Margaret Court and Sebastien Korda beat Corentin Moutet 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5, 7-6 (6) in 4:47.
In the women’s draw, French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova set up a third round match against No. 26 Elena Ostapenko, advancing along with No. 5 Maria Sakkari, No. 8 Paula Badosa and No. 15 Elina Svitolina, who then plays with two – multiple Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka.
Svitolina was leading 6-3, 5-7, 5-1 when Harmony Tan retired with a left leg injury and was waiting on the court for Tan to be moved in a wheelchair.
“It’s always terrible when any athlete gets injured in a competition,” Svitolina said. “It’s hard to see a player like that leave.”
Associated Press contributor Bruce Matthews contributed to this report.