Naomi Osaka kept her title defence alive in Indian Wells with an impressive 6-4 6-2 victory over rising star Danielle Collins.
The Japanese superstar, 21, was ranked 44 in the world before last year’s event. This time, she is playing with an entirely new type of pressure as the World No.1.
But Osaka does not seem bothered that she is the favourite. She is simply playing the same aggressive game that got her to the top.
The Australian Open champion started well when she broke Collins in the third game. However, the American was not discouraged. She attacked Osaka’s serve and broke straight back.
During the next four games, both players tried to hit each other off the court. Their approach generated a string of powerful winners and wild unforced errors and eventually resulted in two holds apiece that moved the score along to 4-4.
In game nine, Collins’ serve deserted her. She made two double faults and then sent down a weak second serve that Osaka swatted away for a winner.
The World No.1 unleashed another superb backhand winner to bring up break point. Then she produced an equally impressive forehand winner to clinch the break.
Osaka builds on her advantage
Osaka took full advantage of the momentum she had now established. She held easily to finish the first set and then broke Collins to love in the third game of the second set to take complete control of the match.
The Japanese player then ended any lingering resistance from the American when she battled back from 40-15 behind to break for a 4-1 lead.
To her credit, Collins saved a match point in game seven and ensured that the World No.1 would have to serve for the win. She did exactly that – thanks to an ace, two huge forehands and a crisp backhand winner.
“I really love this tournament,” Osaka said in her press conference. “I think that some people say it’s kind of slow. But for me, I feel like it’s kind of perfect for the way that I like to play.”
The Japanese player’s next assignment is a mouth-watering clash with Dubai champion Belinda Bencic, who maintained her impressive form with a comfortable 6-4 6-2 win over Caroline Wozniacki’s conqueror Ekaterina Alexandrova.
“I think the things she’s done are really amazing, and (I’m impressed by) the fact that she was able to come back from her injury and still play at a really top level,” Osaka said. “I know we both really want to win this next match.”
She continued, “I think we are both looking forward to it. Because we are the same age, I know that people are going to hype this match up. It should be fun.”
Goerges crashes out; Pliskova and Sabalenka advance
Elsewhere in Indian Wells, there was a shock exit for 15th seed Julia Goerges, who lost 7-5 1-6 6-4 to compatriot Mona Barthel.
The German is normally one of the strongest servers on the WTA tour. However, she struggled in the slow conditions on a cold day in the desert. She only won 53% of points on her serve, fired down just one ace and made six double faults.
These difficulties enabled her Barthel to break her three times in the first set and, crucially, three times in the decider to claim victory.
Other high-ranked players enjoyed much better days. Karolina Pliskova brushed aside Ysaline Bonaventure 6-3 6-2 in just 69 minutes. Aryna Sabalenka overpowered Lesia Tsurenko 6-2 7-5. And Venus Williams overcame fellow American Christina McHale 6-2 7-5.
The final match that took place in the women’s draw was cut short by illness, as 11th seed Anastasija Sevastova was forced to retire with a virus when she was trailing 5-0 to 21st seed Anett Kontaveit.
Simona Halep wins the all Romanian battle in Cluj
Simona Halep is into the second round in Cluj after a dominant performance.
The world number 18 and the top seed managed to beat her Romanian counterpart in straight sets.
Simona Halep is through round one of the Transylvania Open, being played at the BT Arena in Cluj-Napoca, after beating a fellow Romanian Elena Gabriella Ruse in straight sets 6-1, 6-2 in one hour and 13 minutes.
The number one seed served six aces and won 83% of her first serve points in a match that seemed one-sided and Halep was pulling amazing shots and winners throughout the entire match.
“It’s not easy to face a Romanian in the first round of a Romanian tournament but I was very focused and concentrated on what I have to do and I didn’t really think of who I would play, I just wanted to play my game and I felt great on court today.”
It was actually the world 85 with the first breakpoint of the match in the first game but it was denied when Halep stepped up to the service line and fired an ace to save it.
After holding serve the world number 18 started looking for the early lead and she was able to get it after a poor service game from Ruse and after consolidating the break managed to turn it into a double break.
Halep served out the first set in a mere 29 minutes and it was clear she was the better player today.
She continued to ride the momentum into the second set and at 1-1 earned three more chances to break and broke with a stunning return winner that caught Ruse off guard for the 2-1 lead.
At 4-2, the top seed managed to go up a double break with another amazing passing shot and she served out the match and after the match in her post-match press conference, she spoke about pulling off those amazing shots on breakpoints.
“When I have a chance to do it I always do because I love these kinda shots and today it was a great one so it made me very happy.”
Halep will next face the Russian Varvara Gracheva in the next round after she beat the German Andrea Petkovic in three sets 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 on Tuesday night.
Anett Kontaveit overpowers Krunic in Cluj-Napoca
Anett Kontaveit took a step towards the WTA Finals with a straight sets win in Cluj today.
The number two seed only needed two sets and 70 minutes to beat her Serbian opponent.
Anett Kontaveit is through to the second round of the Transylvania Open, being played at the BT Arena in Cluj-Napoca, beating the Serbian qualifier Aleksandra Krunic in straight sets 6-3, 7-5 in one hour and 10 minutes.
The world number 14 served two aces and won 69% of the points on her first serve in a match where she seemed to outhit her opponent using her powerful groundstrokes.
“The match was close and it was only break in the first set and I thought I was playing pretty well and winning a lot of points on my first serve but I actually think she served well and it wasn’t an easy match and the second set got really close”.
The Estonian had the better start to the match holding serve in her opening game and putting pressure on the Serb right away earning two chances to break serve and got the early break to take a 2-0 lead.
That one break was enough for Kontaveitt to serve out the first set and take it 6-3.
The second set was a more competitive affair and it stayed on serve until 2-2 when the Tallinn, Estonia native was able to break the Serb at love to take a 3-2 lead and she was able to consolidate the break.
It stayed on serve until 4-3 when the world number 44 fought back and was able to break the Estonian serve and the set went back on serve. Once again both players did a good job holding serve until 5-5 when Kontaveit got the crucial break of serve and served out the match.
After the match in her post-match press conference, Kontaveit spoke about how she was feeling energy-wise after such a short turnaround time from winning the title in Moscow last week.
” I feel like the energy has dropped a little bit but I did manage to bring some of the energy today and still be active and be aggressive.”
Kontaveit will now face Alison Van Uytvanck in her next match after the Belgian beat Danka Kovinic in straight sets 6-4, 6-4 earlier in the day.
Emma Raducanu battles back to beat Hercog in Cluj
Emma Raducanu won her first match on the WTA tour after beating Polona Hercog in Cluj.
The US Open champion was pushed to the limit in a three-set win over her Slovenian opponent.
Emma Raducanu is through to round two at the Transylvania Open in Cluj-Napoca after beating the Slovenian Polona Hercog in three sets 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in a match that lasted two hours and 27 minutes.
The Brit served four aces and won 75% of her first serve points in a match that went back and forth for all three sets and had a rollercoaster feel to it and it was the first time at tour-level Raducanu played a three-set match.
“I feel really happy to have won that match it was actually very difficult and I wasn’t playing my best tennis but Polona (Hercog) is a great opponent and she is really experienced so I really had to fight hard to pull that one through.”
After holding serve in the opening service game of the match the world number 23 put pressure on Hercog’s serve right away and in a game that lasted 10 minutes, it took the Brit six break points before she was able to get the first break of serve of the match.
It stayed on serve until 4-2 when the world number 124 struck back and managed to get the break back to go back on serve and at 4-4 got the crucial break needed to serve out the first set.
The second set stayed on serve with the 18-year-old getting the first chance to break at 2-1 but Hercog saved all three break points she faced and at 4-4 it was the Slovenian applying pressure and looking for the break.
Raducanu was able to save it and hold serve and at 6-5, she found herself at set point as she managed to win it to force a third and deciding set.
Winning the second set seemed to give the Britt a boost and the motivation to keep fighting and she managed to get the early break to take a 2-0 lead and at 3-0 broke again to go up a double break.
The next game she found herself at match point but the world number 124 was able to save it and the next game Raducanu serve out the match. In her post-match press conference, she spoke about what the key was to turn the match around.
“It feels like a huge win for me and it’s my first WTA tour win which makes me very happy and I think the key was to stay mentally composed and I knew myself I wasn’t playing very well so I just needed to keep going one point at a time and I am really proud of myself how I fought today.”
Raducanu will face a Romanian in her next match on Thursday in Ana Bogden who beat the Serb Ivana Jorovic on Monday and this will be their first-ever meeting.
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