The world No. 1 from Japan defeated No. 84 Anna Blinkova of Russia 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-2 on Tuesday in her return to Arthur Ashe Stadium, the scene of her first major title. But it was far from easy.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous in my life,” Osaka said to ESPN on court after the win.
Osaka got off to a slow start, trailing by an early break in the opening set. But the two-time major champion responded by breaking Blinkova twice in a row — the second of which bringing out a smile from the 21-year-old — before closing out the first set.
The roller coaster continued in the second set, with Osaka saving three set points to make it 5-5. In the following game, she went on to break Blinkova at love. Serving for the match at 6-5, however, wasn’t so straightforward, with Blinkova saving a match point and forcing the tiebreak. On her fifth set point, Blinkova came through to force a decider.
After all of that work, Osaka had no trouble closing the third set. She finished with 43 winners to 50 unforced errors in a match that lasted two hours, 28 minutes.
“I just came off really slow, and I never really found my rhythm,” Osaka said to ESPN. “But I think I just fought as hard as I could, and I managed to win.”
On asked why she was nervous, Osaka replied she “just definitely didn’t want to lose in the first round.”
“You kind of want to do well when you did well last year,” Osaka said to the crowd. “For me, I just — I don’t know. I really love you guys, so I wanted to stay here longer.”
Osaka is looking to become first woman to defend a US Open title since Serena Williams won three in a row from 2012 to 2014. She will have to defend her title to keep the No. 1 ranking. Osaka’s next opponent will be Poland’s Magda Linette, who won her first career WTA title at the NYJTL Bronx Open over the weekend.
In January when she won the Australian Open, Osaka became the first woman to win her second consecutive major after winning her first since Jennifer Capriati did so in 2001 (Australian Open followed by the French Open). But after hoisting the trophy in Melbourne, Osaka was a bit uneven away from the hard courts, losing in the third round of the French Open and in the first round at Wimbledon.
There’s also been recent injury. Earlier this month at the Western & Southern Open in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason, Ohio, Osaka was forced to retire in her quarterfinal match against American Sofia Kenin because of a knee injury. Osaka wore a knee brace on her left knee in her match Tuesday.
While she may not have been at the top of her game on Tuesday, Osaka is back on her most comfortable surface. She’s reached two quarterfinals this summer in Toronto and Cincinnati, and all three of her career singles titles have been won on hard courts, having also won Indian Wells in 2018.