NEW YORK — There was just a hint of doubt swirling around Naomi Osaka entering her 6-4, 6-1 first-round win over Marie Bouzková on Monday night, which sounds like a ridiculous thing to say, until you step back and consider the circumstances. A four-time Grand Slam winner, who is ranked No. 3 in the world and is the defending U.S. Open women’s champion, playing a player who is ranked No. 87 in the world and is 1-10 in Grand Slam events doesn’t sound like much of a matchup, at first glance.
But it’s been an odd year for Osaka, who began the season with an Australian Open win, withdrew from Wimbledon in June, pulled out of the French Open in July, and bowed out of the Tokyo Olympics in the third round. Her most recent tournament, the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, ended in a stunning defeat against Jil Teichmann, who prevailed vs. Osaka 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.
So, despite the fact that Osaka was playing the U.S. Open – seemingly her favorite of the four major tournaments, and a tournament that she’s won twice – it seemed fair to question what was to come, if only because her sample size this year is so small. She promptly reminded any doubters of what she was capable of on Monday.
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Bouzková gave her a good fight at first, and seemed to handle Osaka’s prodigious power well, but the momentum shifted strongly in Osaka’s favor in the ninth game of the first set. The score was tied, 4-4, and Bouzková had a break point at 30-40, but then Osaka fired two aces and a service winner to take the game (and reinforce that the reigning 2020 U.S. Open women’s champion would not be going anywhere).
She closed out the set minutes later with the help of a wicked backhand winner and lost only one more game from there, closing out the match with a sizzling crosscourt forehand. She will play a qualifier next, against Olga Danilovic of Serbia.