Osaka easily advances to launch Aussie Open

Three-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka has won her opening match at the Australian Open.

Osaka, who won the title in Melbourne two years ago, played the first match of the tournament in Rod Laver Arena and beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 6-2.

The first tournament of this year’s Grand Slam season began after a three-week delay because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Physically I feel like everyone, their bodies are shocked, coming in and playing so suddenly after such a long break,” Osaka said. “I think we’re all getting used to it, and everyone is just happy to be here.”

Osaka drew a potential tough opening opponent in Pavlyuchenkova, a Russian ranked 39th who reached the quarterfinals in Melbourne three of the past four years. But Osaka breezed through the first set in 21 minutes and barely slowed after that. She finished with more winners than errors and lost only five points on her first serve.

She has won 15 consecutive matches, including the US Open final in September, since her most recent loss in a Fed Cup match a year ago.

Serena Williams will begin her latest bid for a 24th Grand Slam singles title against Laura Siegemund. Serena’s older sister Venus, a seven-time major champion, won the first match at Margaret Court Arena with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over Kirsten Flipkens.

The win ended Venus Williams’ four-match losing streak at majors, the longest of her career.

Other women’s Grand Slam singles titlists in action on the opening day include two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu.

Up to 30,000 fans — about 50% of capacity — will be allowed on the tournament site, but seats were mostly empty for the start of play on a cool morning.

“I’m just really happy to see people in the stands,” Osaka said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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