World number one Naomi Osaka had to keep her emotions in check as she opened her campaign at the WTA and ATP Miami Open on Friday by outlasting Yanina Wickmayer 6-0, 6-7 (3/7), 6-1.
Since winning her second consecutive Grand Slam title in January at the Australian Open, the Japanese star has failed to go deep in Dubai or Indian Wells. But she appeared in solid form against 141st-ranked Wickmayer, despite losing her way in the middle of an entertaining match at Hard Rock Stadium.
The 21 year-old was forced to dig deep after the Belgian, who reached the Miami Open last eight in 2010, forced a third set as Osaka's game badly dipped.
“In the second set, I got really emotional, so in the third, I just tried to shut off my feelings,” Osaka said. “I started thinking about winning and not the things I could do in order to win. I had a dip and she started playing really well.
“It's normal, it's my first match here, and I wasn't able to defend the title in Indian Wells so I wanted to do well. I just had to breathe and regroup. I find myself doing it often when I am in emotional situations, it's like an energy saver. Rather than being riled up for every point I can just move on to the next one.
“When I close out my emotions, I just feel like I am a shell,” she added. “I don't celebrate or react after points. I get really hyper quickly if I start bouncing around a lot so I try not to do that.”
Osaka readily admits dealing with the pressure of being the best in the world is very much a work in progress. However, she is keen to ensure her charge for a first Miami Open title remains on an even keel.
“I don't think about that I am number one in the world and have won two Slams,” she said. The main goal is to win the tournament I am playing in.”
- Hsieh rematch -
Next up in the third round is Taiwan's Hsieh Su-Wei, who defeated American Alison Riske 6-2, 7-5.
The pair had a rollercoaster clash in the Australian Open at the start of 2019 with Hsieh a set and 4-1 up in Melbourne only to lose a dramatic third-round encounter.
“She's unpredictable,” Osaka said. “She can hit winners from anywhere it seems like. She has a slice, dropshot. Feels like she has everything.
“For me it's tough to play her because I don't know what's going to happen. It's that unpredictability that I think makes her play really well and beat all the top people. It should be really tough against her.”
Osaka broke Wickmayer twice for a 3-0 lead in the first set and blitzed her opponent in just 22 minutes before strolling through the Belgian in the third to capture the first win of her campaign in South Florida after two hours and nine minutes following an opening-round bye.
Despite struggling in a second set which saw her hit 24 unforced errors, Osaka produced some excellent moments, hitting 51 winners and 14 aces allied with a rocksteady serve: Osaka landed an impressive 71% of first serves in the opener, conceding just two points in the process.
She admitted afterwards that the shadows on the new main court at Hard Rock Stadium had caused some difficulty midway through the match.
“My eyes aren't what they used to be,” she smiled. “It was a little bit hard to see the ball sometimes.”
Elsewhere, Venus Williams beat Carla Suarez Navarro 7-6 , (7/4), 6-1 to move into a third round meeting with 14th-seeded Daria Kasatkina from Russia.
On the men's side, there was disappointment for Osaka's compatriot Kei Nishikori. The fifth seed lost to Serbian Dusan Lajovic 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 but reigning champion John Isner outlasted Italian qualifier Lorenzo Sonego 7-6 (7/2), 7-6, (9/7).
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