NEW YORK (Reuters) – Naomi Osaka overcame a slow start to beat Czech Marie Bouzkova 6-4 6-1 on Monday as the world number three got her U.S. Open title defence under way in front of a roaring capacity crowd.
Unseeded Bouzkova held her own through much of the first set but failed to convert on four break point opportunities against the Japanese four-time Grand Slam winner.
Osaka, who fired 21 winners but committed 13 unforced errors in the first set, broke Bouzkova’s serve at 5-4 to win the opener and never looked back, winning the first five games of the second despite struggling with her first serve.
She closed out the match with a forehand winner, offering a smile and a wave to the stands that were empty a year ago.
“It feels kind of crazy to play in front of everyone again,” said Osaka. “Last year when we didn’t have a crowd I know it felt quite lonely for me.”
The evening marked a reassuring return to form for Osaka, who crashed out in the third round of the Tokyo Olympics and the Western & Southern Open.
She said she felt at home at Arthur Ashe Stadium, where she won her first major title three years ago.
“I think it might be the court where I’ve played the most matches in my career,” said Osaka. “I’m just glad I won.”
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Peter Rutherford)