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In first match in four months, Naomi Osaka battles to victory in Melbourne
The four-time Grand Slam champion rebounded from a mid-match hiccup to beat Alize Cornet in three sets.
Published Jan 04, 2022
Playing her first match since last year’s US Open, Naomi Osaka made a winning return to the tour on Tuesday, battling past Alize Cornet, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
The match, part of one of the two WTA 250s being held in Melbourne this week, was held on Rod Laver Arena, where Osaka has won two Australian Opens.
“I really love playing here,” Osaka said in her on-court interview. “I love New York, but this might be my favorite Slam. It always feels good to come back here.”
It had been four months since Osaka last played a match on tour, a seemingly disappointing third-round loss to a No. 73-ranked Leylah Fernandez at the US Open on September 3rd, 2021. After that defeat, the four-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 announced that she would be taking a break from the tour—of course, little did anyone know that night that the Canadian would go on to beat another two Top 5 players and make it all the way to her first Grand Slam final there.
And for her first match in so long, the now-No. 13-ranked Osaka couldn’t have had a much trickier draw than Cornet, a former No. 11 with 47 career Top 20 wins.
After going up a set and a break, 6-4, 3-1, Osaka began making some unforced errors and Cornet capitalized, winning five games in a row to take the second set. But Osaka regrouped right when she needed to, snapping the streak by holding in the opening game of the third set—she then broke for 2-0 and held again for 3-0.
From there the two women held the rest of the way until Osaka closed out the two-hour, two-minute victory, finishing the match with 51 winners to 57 unforced errors.
“I feel like she’s a veteran—I actually watched her on the TV multiple times when I was a young adult. It feels really cool to play against players like that,” said Osaka, who went 3-for-11 on break points in the match. “I probably made a lot of unforced errors today, but I kind of expected that because it was the first match.
"I was kind of nervous, but I’m happy I was able to hold my serve in the last game.”
Osaka has now won 23 of her last 25 matches in Australia, and 20 of her last 21 matches in Melbourne, specifically—both stretches date back to three years ago, to the start of her run to the 2019 Australian Open title.
There are two WTA 250 events being held in Melbourne this week—Melbourne Summer Set 1 and Melbourne Summer Set 2. Osaka is the No. 1 seed at Melbourne Summer Set 1, and awaiting her in the second round will be No. 82-ranked Belgian Maryna Zanevska, who took out former No. 14 Petra Martic later on Tuesday, 6-3, 6-4.
Osaka and Zanevska will be playing each other for the first time.