Naomi Osaka returned to the scene of one of her career highlights when she easily defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets, as the Australian Open got underway at Melbourne Park.
- Osaka broke Pavlyuchenkova’s serve five times on her way to victory
- The third seed won the Australian Open in 2019
- She will face either Polona Hercog or Caroline Garcia in the second round
Osaka clinched the Australian Open women’s title on Rod Laver Arena in 2019 and she showed why she is among this year’s tournament favourites with a 6-1, 6-2 defeat of the experienced Pavlyuchenkova in one hour and eight minutes.
The Japanese third seed entered the Australian Open with a minor injury (shoulder) concern that forced her out of the semi-finals of last week’s Gippsland Trophy at Melbourne Park, but she showed no signs of discomfort on Monday.
The warm-up event was her first appearance on the WTA Tour since she won her second US Open crown last September.
On paper, Pavlyuchenkova appeared to be a tricky first-round opponent for Osaka.
The Russian had reached the quarter-finals of three of the past four Australian Opens and had been ranked as high as 13 earlier in her career.
But Osaka exerted her dominance early when she broke Pavlyuchenkova’s serve in the second game of the match, which was played in front of a small crowd in line with the Australian Open COVID-safe plans.
Osaka secured another two service breaks and only dropped serve once on her way to wrapping up the first set in 33 minutes.
A crisp backhand winner saw Osaka break Pavlyuchenkova in the third game of the second set and it was pretty much smooth sailing from that point for the three-time major champion.
A second break established a 5-2 lead and she served out the match to book a place in the second round.
Osaka made a shock third-round exit as defending champion in 2020 when she went down to US rising star Cori Gauff in straight sets.
She will back her chances of advancing from the second round this year as she will face either Polona Hercog or Caroline Garcia on Wednesday.
Osaka belongs to the tougher side of the women’s draw, with second seed Simona Halep, the eighth-seed Bianca Andreescu and 23-time major winner Serena Williams among those in the bottom half.
Earlier, the Australian Open welcomed spectators on the first day of the tournament.
Between 25,000 to 30,000 spectators will be able to attend each day.
A total of 390,000 people are expected to attend Melbourne Park across the fortnight, which is about half the average attendance in recent years.