Naomi Osaka was all smiles after winning her first career match at the Cincinnati Masters. The two-time Grand Slam winner outlasted Aliaksandra Sasnovich 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-2 on Wednesday to reach the third round.
Osaka, champion at the US and Australian Opens, said that she had to lighten her mood after losing the second set – possibly in direct contrast to suggestions from her coach that she take the struggle a bit more seriously.
“I was just trying to have fun,” the Japanese said of a match where her opponent was treated on her right knee several times. “In the second set I was taking myself too seriously and was down on myself.
“Now I just want to have fun and enjoy it, that’s what I’m supposed to do.”
Osaka, now back on the top ranking position, is playing the pre-US Open tune-up for only the second time; she lost here a year ago in the first round just a month before she defeated Serena Williams for the Flushing Meadows trophy.
Osaka dominated with eight aces, 24 winners, breaking on four of five chances.
Other seeds also advanced, with top seeded Australian Ash Barty beating Maria Sharapova and 2018 finalist and current Wimbledon champion Simona Halep moving through after a battle.
Barty needed around 90 minutes.to control five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova 6-4, 6-1, champion here in 2011.
It was her second win in the series after defeating the Russian last January in Australia and marked the Roland Garros champion’s 40th win of this season.
Barty came good after losing a week ago in Toronto, a defeat which she said was quickly shaken off.
“It was certainly no panic sessions after last week. I knew I was a little bit underdone going into Toronto and certainly had no worries or concerns there
“I have been striking the ball really well over the last seven or eight days. I found my groove a little bit more.
“It took a little bit to adjust to conditions, but it was easy for me to swing out at the start. I played within myself and focused on what I needed to.”
Halep, who lost the Cincy final in 2018 to Kiki Bertens, needed to work to go past Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 in two hours.
Halep has never tasted trophy glory here but has finished runner-up three times.
“It was a very, very tough match,” the Romanian said. “She played well, hitting the ball very strong. Mentally, it was tough to return for me at the start after playing injured last week.
“But I didn’t have pain, which is good. It took time to get a rhythm and then do something on court.”
Halep needed a fightback to finally win. “After the first set, I felt I could play aggressive, I also changed the tactics. I fought and did not give up. I wanted to run for every ball, it felt really good.”
Opening matches for men’s seeds proved something of a disaster as both Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas were eliminated in first matches.
Tsitsipas, seeded fifth, salvaged three three match points but came up a loser to German Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(6).
No. 7 Zverev produced an astounding 20 double-faults in his 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4 defeat by Serb Miomir Kecmanovic, aged 19.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori lost to compatriot Yoshihito Nishioka 7-6(2), 6-4 and has yet to pass the third round here.
Australian Alex de Minaur defeated American Reilly Opelka 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 to set up a third-round tie with Nishioka.