Naomi Osaka’s quest for her fourth major title in four years begins with a brutal first-round matchup against 12-time WTA title winner Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. It’s the first test in a nightmarish draw for the 2019 Champion, who withdrew from the Gippsland Trophy tune-up event due to a “niggling injury”. The last time Osaka withdrew from an event prior to a Grand Slam, at the New York held Western & Southern Open, she went on to win the US Open.

Of Pavlychenkova’s six major quarterfinal appearances, three have come at Melbourne Park. She’s one of the few players who can match Osaka’s pace, but she’ll need to play flawlessly to pull off the upset, as Osaka has become the gold-standard on hard courts in recent years.

The Russian has beaten Osaka before, at the 2017 Hong Kong Open, but lost their last meeting at the Pan Pacific Open handily, 2-6, 3-6.

It’s never easy against Osaka, but Pavyluchenkova must gain control of the point as early as possible. It will require extremely high-risk tennis, but it might be her only option. She won’t beat Osaka with her defense, as the world No. 3 hits the ball far too hard.

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The Pick: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova v. Naomi Osaka, AO First Round

Pavlyuchenkova’s best bet is to try and take the racquet out of Osaka’s hands. One way she can do this is to demolish any second-serve return opportunity, like she does here.

The Pick: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova v. Naomi Osaka, AO First Round

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But even still, Osaka is one of the few players who consistently strikes clean winners with her rally ball. Pavyluchenkova hit this return extremely well, but it didn't phase Osaka in the slightest.

The Pick: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova v. Naomi Osaka, AO First Round

As a -500 favorite according to the oddsmakers, it will take a career performance for the former world No. 13 to prevail. Osaka has opened the door for her opponents quite often in the last year, but amazingly, she’s won her last seven three-set matches. In the end, expect Osaka’s overwhelming aggression and mental fortitude to prove too much for the talented Russian.

The Pick: Naomi Osaka

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The Pick: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova v. Naomi Osaka, AO First Round

The Pick: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova v. Naomi Osaka, AO First Round