Naomi Osaka opened her title defense with a strong win Monday night at the US Open, overwhelming Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-1 in the first round.
The Czech had a chance to serve for the first set at 4-all, but thanks in large part of her serve, Osaka swatted all eight break chances she faced, and won 8 of the last 9 games to ease in the second round.
“I actually thought I was doing pretty well on the return games,” Osaka said. “There were a couple games that were pretty close, so I just kept telling myself to keep it really tight, hopefully she’ll get nervous or something. I feel like that did happen a little bit on the last set point that I was able to win.
“But, yeah, my serve’s definitely one of my biggest weapons. It’s able to come in when it’s really necessary. But hopefully it won’t be that needed in the future.”
The world No. 3 has won her last 15 matches at hardcourt Grand Slam events.
Osaka could run into Sloane Stephens down the road. The former champion Stephens edged Madison Keys in a tight affair 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(7) in the opening match on Arthur Ashe.
“Playing Madison is always difficult,” said Stephens. “We’re friends and then obviously Americans playing at the US Open is never easy. And then of course we played here in the final in 2017. So there was a lot of stuff surrounding the match just because it’s something that we’re familiar with, and I think a lot of people wanted to see.
“I think today we both went out and did our best and we played a really great match,” Stephens added. “It’s just unfortunate that someone has to win and someone has to lose.”
Keys was up 5-3 in the final set breaker but missed a couple easy forehands, and she sinks to her fourth straight opening round loss.
Stephens will now face Coco Gauff on Wednesday. The 17-year-old held off Magda Linette 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. Gauff led early but couldn’t maintain the lead. Then Linette had a break lead in the second 2-0 before Gauff caught fire. Backed by the boisterous Armstrong crowd, Gauff streaked out to a 4-0 lead in the third before Linette mounted a charge.
“I was definitely very nervous coming into today’s match just because it’s a first round in your home Slam,” Gauff admitted. “Honestly I’m glad that I was able to get through it. The crowd, playing in front of the New York fans, definitely is an experience that I’ll never forget.”
Gauff and Stephens have never played before.
“Obviously a very athletic player and super fast. I know I’m going to have to expect a lot of balls to come back. She’s definitely going to redirect the ball. I think we’re both ready. I think it will be an exciting match,” said Gauff looking ahead to Stephens.
Aryna Sabalenka made her debut as a world No. 2 under the lights, but Nina Stojanovic made life a little difficult forcing the Belarusian to three sets in a 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-0 victory.
Former champion Angelique Kerber came from a set down and a break in the third to deny Dayana Yastremska in a final set breaker.
2020 runner-up Victoria Azarenka was a winner as were Elise Mertens, Barbora Krejcikova and Danielle Collins were also winners.
On Tuesday, top seed Ash Barty opens play against former finalist Vera Zvonareva. In the evening, 2019 winner Bianca Andreescu returns to meet Victorija Golubic.
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