Reigning Aussie Open champ Osaka cruises to 1st-round win

BRANDON MALONE / AFP / Getty

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The Australian Open started Monday without nine-time champion Novak Djokovic and, finally, the focus was on forehands and backhands instead of his fight to avoid deportation because he isn't vaccinated against COVID-19.

And it got started in a big way, with a combined 64 matches scheduled on Day 1 in both men’s and women’s brackets.

Naomi Osaka started her title defense by winning the first five games on the way to a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Camila Osorio in the second match on the tournament's main court.

With so much attention on the 11-day saga of Djokovic’s attempt to participate in the year’s first Grand Slam tournament, and bid for a fourth consecutive title at Melbourne Park, Osaka’s return to action has been overshadowed.

After winning here last year, capturing her second Australian Open title in three years, the four-time major winner pulled out of the 2021 French Open before the second round, then sat out Wimbledon. She played at the Tokyo Olympics, where she lit the cauldron, but ended her 2021 season early after a third-round loss and a teary news conference at the U.S. Open.

Two of her goals for 2022, she said last week, were to stay completely composed on the court and off, and to enjoy the game.

A smile when she completely whiffed an overhead to give Osorio a breakpoint chance in the seventh game maybe was a sign of the new approach. She dropped that service game but recovered quickly.

“It just feels really nice to start the year with this tournament,” Osaka said in a post-match, on-court interview. “I thought I played really well given the circumstances.”

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Reigning Aussie Open champ Osaka cruises to 1st-round win
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