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Osaka survives Sakkari scare in season opener

7 January 2020, by

Naomi Osaka relishes the early chance to test her endurance, to “figure things out” against an opponent of Maria Sakkari’s ilk.

On Tuesday, the Brisbane International’s No.3 seed was handed that test and prevailed in a see-sawing three-set tussle to reach the second round.

Much to the delight of new coach Wim Fissette, the defending Australian Open champion withstood the Greek world No.23’s challenge, 6-2 6-7(4) 6-3.

“I’m really happy with how I served,” Osaka said. “I had to retire from my last match [in 2019] because of my shoulder thing, so I wasn’t really sure how I was going to serve today, but I was told I hit 16 aces, so that’s pretty good for me.

“Yeah, I think I served well. Return could be better, but it’s not anything that is so extreme that I’m nitpicking at it right now.

“I think I learned a lot during the match as the match went on, so hopefully that skill kind of hones during this entire tournament.”

It was the 22-year-old Osaka who started the stronger of the two, breaking twice in succession en route to the opening set.

But with neither player able to be separated on serve in the second, it was Sakkari who proved the more consistent in the tie-break.

Osaka handed the Greek four set points when she dumped a backhand into the net.

And she channelled her frustrations into winners when she staved off two – one on a heavy forehand return winner, the other on her 10th ace.

But it was Sakkari who skipped to the chair fist-pumping after she levelled the match on her third opportunity.

Osaka’s resolve was seriously tested when she fell behind an early break in the deciding set.

But after she pegged back the advantage, the crucial break came when Sakkari rolled a forehand wide.

It was the only change Osaka needed. A 15th ace brought up three match points a game later and she secured the result at the two-hour, 10-minute mark.

She next meets 21-year-old American Sofia Kenin for a place in the quarter-finals.

“She’s like the girl that was younger than me but was better than me,” Osaska said. “In the juniors she used to kill everybody.

“She’s a consistent player, she’s very smart, she hits a lot of drop shots. I think she changes based on who she plays, which is a really good thing to do, especially for like her being that young.”