Defending Champion Osaka Having Fun, Winning At Australian Open

Naomi Osaka (photo: Mark Dadswell / Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 19, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Women’s defending champion Naomi Osaka of Japan advanced to the third round of the Australian Open with a 6-0, 6-4 win over 54th-ranked American Madison Brengle in a featured Wednesday evening match on Rod Laver Arena.

Overall, Day Three, which was played under sunny skies and a peasant temperature of 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit), went pretty much according to plan as 23 of a possible 26 seeds advanced to the third round.

Osaka conceded just four points during the opening four games of her match, then recovered in the second set after she was broken by Brengle in the seventh game. The former World No. 1 finished with 37 winners and 32 unforced errors, and won the last nine points of the 65-minute match.

Afterward, during an on-court interview with Jim Courier, Osaka was asked how she would rate her form. She responded: “Honestly, I’m trying not to do that. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. If I compare myself with the past, I’ll never be satisfied.”

Osaka’s candor in answering Courier’s question drew plenty of applause from the fans in attendance.

“The goal for me is just to have fun. … I think we’re accomplishing that.”

Later, during her press conference, Osaka admitted, matches like the one against Brengle “are the type of matches that I need to play in Grand Slams  – to get broken and to figure out a way to fight back in really crucial times.”

Osaka’s victory was her 15th straight in Melbourne. She’s also won 24 of her last 25 in Australia going back to 2019. It includes her two Australian Open titles, in 2019 and 2021, as well as semifinal finishes at the 2021 Gippsland Trophy and this year’s Melbourne Summer Set 1 (both ended in walkovers), plus a third-round finish in the 2020 Australian Open.

Next for Osaka is a third-round match against another American, 20-year-old Amanda Anisimova, who upset Olympic gold medalist and 22nd seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, 6-2, 7-5, in 88 minutes.

Two weeks ago, Anisimova won the Melbourne Summer Set 1, a WTA 250 tune-up event, and has won all seven of her matches this season. Should Osaka beat Anisimova, it could set up a possible fourth-round showdown with World No.1 Ashleigh Barty.

Barty celebrates Australian Open’s inaugural First Nations Day with win

Earlier Wednesday, top seed Ashleigh Barty helped the Australian Open celebrate its inaugural First Nations Day. The World No. 1 from Ipswich has Indigenous heritage, and her second-round match against 143rd-ranked Italian qualifier Lucia Bronzetti, whom she beat 6-1, 6-1 in 52 minutes, was among those dedicated to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia. Barty’s friend and fellow Indigenous Evonne Goolagong Cawley – who like Barty is a Wimbledon champion – is an ambassador.

“She’s an incredible human being. I’m extremely luck to call her a friend and know she’s only a phone call away,” Barty said of the Hall of Fame great Goolagong Cawley. “We’re connected through our heritage. She’s an incredible woman who has paved a path and been able to guide so many of the Indigenous youth coming up in the last however many years through her work off the court. I love her to death.”

Next, Barty who extended her streak of service holds to 48 games and moved into the third round at Melbourne Park for the sixth straight year, will face No. 30 seed Camila Giorgi of Italy, who advanced with a 6-2, 7-6 (2) win over No. 47 Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic.

“She [Giorgi] is an incredible ball-striker, one of the most athletic girls out here,” Barty said of the 33rd-ranked Giorgi in her on-court interview. “Not afraid to stand on the baseline and put you under time pressure from the first strike. I will have to have my running shoes on, get the backhand slice out and bring in variation and see how it goes.”

Elsewhere, reigning French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic, seeded fourth in Melbourne, beat No. 139 Wang Xiyu of China, 6-2, 6-3, to advance to a third-round matchup with No. 26 seed Jelena Ostapenko. Other seeds advancing were No. 5 Maria Sakkari of Greece, No. 8 Paula Badosa of Spain and No. 15 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who next faces two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who is seeded 24th.

In Svitolina’s match against 107th-ranked Harmony Tan of France on Margaret Court Arena, she was leading 6-3, 5-7, 5-1 when Tan retired with a left leg injury. She waited on court until Tan was removed in wheelchair.

“It’s always horrible when any athlete gets injured in competition,” Svitolina said. “It’s tough to see a player going out like this.”

Also advancing were: No. 21 seed Jessica Pegula of the United States and No. 28 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia. One other seed besides Bencic was eliminated as No. 32 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain lost to No. 66 Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, 7-6 (5), 6-3.

Zverev, Nadal remain on course for quarterfinal showdown

World No. 3 Alexander Zverev, the highest-remaining seed in the upper half of the men’s draw following the withdrawal of top seed Novak Djokovic before the start of the tournament, advanced to the third round with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-0 win over 89th-ranked Australian John Millman on Rod Laver Arena. It continued the third-seeded Zverev’s perfect record against players at their home majors. He’s now 2-0 against Australians in Melbourne, 3-0 against French players at Roland-Garros and 4-0 against Americans at the US Open. He’s never faced a British player at Wimbledon.

“My tactic today was to hit the ball as slow as possible,” Zverev said during a post-match on-court interview with Australian wheelchair champion Dylan Alcott. “That was my mindset going into the match, but hopefully I can hit it even harder next match and harder the next match after that.”

Zverev overcame 38 unforced errors by hitting 14 aces and 37 winners compared to the popular Aussie Millman’s zero aces, nine winners and 16 unforced errors.

“I could really feel that you guys have been locked down for two years,” Zverev said. “I’m prepared that everybody will hate me after the match. It’s quite accurate and that’s my mindset. I’ll get a lot of boos and hopefully everybody will cheer against me. I’m kidding.”

Next, Zverev will play 123rd-ranked qualifier Radu Albot of Moldova, who defeated Australian wild card Aleksandar Vukic, 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-4.

Meanwhile, Zverev’s potential quarterfinal opponent, World No. 5 Rafael Nadal moved into the third round with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 win over 126th-ranked qualifier Yannick Hanfmann of Germany.

The sixth-seeded Nadal, 35, who is looking to win his second Australian Open crown and 21st major singles title, had two match points on Hanfmann’s serve in the ninth game of the third set and two more on his own serve in the next game before he finally secured the victory in two hours and 42 minutes after the German hit a forehand long.

During the match, Nadal converted four 16 break-point chances, including one of eight in the third set, and saved both break points he faced. Next, Nadal will face No. 28 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, who beat No. 65 Benjamin Bonzi of France, 6-4, 6-0, 7-5.

“I said here before the tournament started, things are not going to be perfect, but every day that I’m going to spend on court, the chances to play better are higher,” Nadal said. “After two matches is the moment to make a step forward. I’m excited about it.”

“I’m excited about the fact that I’m going to be playing in a third round for one more time here after all the things I am going through. I don’t have big pressure on my shoulders, honestly. I don’t feel it. The pressure is only to stay healthy and to enjoy the fact that I am competing again, then give my best as I did during all my tennis career.”

Quartet of marathon five-set thrillers

Elsewhere, four seeded players – No. 7 Matteo Berrettini of Italy, No. 17 Gaël Monfils of France, No. 23 Reilly Opelka of the United States and No. 31 Carlos Alcaraz of Spain – advanced in straight sets, while No. 18 Aslan Karatsev of Russia and No. 25 Lorenzo Sonego of Italy moved on in four. However, it was a day in which a quartet of second-round marathon five-setters grabbed a lot attention, too.

First, No. 14 Denis Shapovalov of Canada fought off No. 53 Soonwoo Kwon of South Korea, 7-6 (6), 6-7 (3), 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-2 in four hours and 25 minutes on Margaret Court Arena, by firing 29 aces and 81 winners to offset 77 unforced errors. There were 379 total points played. Meanwhile, on Court 8, No. 40 Sebastian Korda of the United States rallied from a set down to pull out a 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5, 7-6 (6) victory over 115th-ranked Corentin Moutet of France in four hours and 47 minutes. The 21-year-old American overcame 92 unforced errors by hitting 67 winners to 61 for Moutet.

Also, No. 16 seed Cristian Garin of Chile was pushed to five sets before defeating No. 61 Pedro Martinez of Spain, 6-7 (1), 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, in four hours and 35 minutes on 1573 Arena, and No. 19 seed Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain went the distance to beat No. 62 Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4, in four hours and 11 minutes on Kia Arena.

One seeded player, No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz, was eliminated and saw his Australian Open record drop to 1-4. The World No. 10 from Poland lost to No. 69 Adrian Mannarino of France, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3, in two hours and four minutes. Hurkacz committed 40 unforced errors and his serve broken six times.

Wednesday’s Australian Open results

Thursday’s Australian Open order of play

By the numbers

• Wednesday’s Day Three attendance at Melbourne Park reached 25,653.

• American Sebastian Korda‘s 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5, 7-6 (6) win over Corentin Moutet of France was the longest of four five-set matches on Wednesday. Korda won in four hours and 47 minutes.

Gaël Monfils of France reached the third round of the Australian Open for the 11th time with his 6-1, 6-0, 6-4 win over Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan.

• Top seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia surrendered just seven point to Italy’s Lucia Bronzetti in the first five games of her second-round match, which Barty won 6-1, 6-1. She broke her opponent five times and throughout used her solid serve, backhand slice and topspin forehand to her advantage. Barty extended her winning streak to six to begin the season, having already won the season-opening Adelaide International 1.

“Quotable …”

“Sport needs atmosphere and the people. It doesn’t matter if you are for me or against me, I enjoy the atmosphere and I enjoy being on court in front of all of. You guys. I think spectators bring the emotions, and sport without spectators is like sport without emotions. So, I think it is incredible to play in front of everybody.”

– World No. 3 Alexander Zverev of Germany, when asked during his post-match on-court interviewer about the crowd on Rod Laver Arena Wednesday night for his second-round match against John Millman of Australia.