Naomi Osaka kept her perfect post-US Open season going at the China Open on Sunday, battling past American Jessica Pegula, 6-3, 7-6 (5), in her opening match.
Facing the No. 76-ranked Pegula for the first time, Osaka came out strong, storming out to a 5-1, double-break lead, but things tightened up in a big way from there. Not only did Pegula get one of the breaks back before Osaka could serve the first set out on her second try, but—after getting broken at 5-all in the second set—she broke the world No. 4 right back as she served for the match at 6-5.
Pegula put up major resistance in the tiebreak, too, reeling off four points in a row from 4-1 down to lead 5-4, but Osaka closed it out, winning three quick points to prevail after an hour and 31 minutes.
Though she finished the match with four more unforced errors than Pegula, 26 to 22, Osaka more than made up for those miscues with over twice as many winners as the American, 26 to 10.
And having won the Premier-level Toray Pan Pacific Open in her birthplace of Osaka, Japan a week ago without dropping a set, Osaka is now a perfect 5-0 since the US Open (and 10-0 in sets).
She was asked in her pre-tournament press conference about her sharp play since New York.
“I wouldn’t say it’s anything drastic,” she said. “I just feel more relaxed, because in New York I had to think about defending the title. After that I’m kind of like, loose. I’m a bit more confident in myself.”
Osaka wasn’t the only Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 to win at the Premier Mandatory event on Sunday.
Simona Halep, who was playing her first match since retiring in Wuhan last week with a lower back injury, dominated Swedish qualifier Rebecca Peterson in an hour and 11 minutes, 6-1, 6-1. The world No. 6 held all seven of her service games and broke the No. 53-ranked Peterson five times.
It was also the Wimbledon champion’s first match since turning 28 on Friday.
“Every year it’s nice to come back here,” she said. “This tournament’s a big tournament and important for everybody, and the atmosphere is very nice. You can see everyone is focused on their job.
“This year I celebrated my birthday at the Great Wall. It was actually the first time I’ve visited the Great Wall after coming here many years in a row. I think it’s going to be a good week for me—even if I was a little bit injured last week, I feel good now. I’m feeling good to play and to win matches.”
And Venus Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1, was up a set and a break against Barbora Strycova—as well as an early break in the third set—but ended up having to rally from 5-3 down in the decider to survive, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5. She’s now 5-0 against the Czech.
Williams will take on the No. 9 seed, US Open semifinalist Belinda Bencic, in the second round.