Naomi Osaka has shown glimpses of her thunderous best after being tested in a successful WTA Tour return in Brisbane.
Japan’s former world No.1 and four-time major champion beat Germany’s Tamara Korpatsch 6-3 7-6 (11-9) in the first round of the Brisbane International on Monday.
It was her first WTA victory in 15 months and first match since the arrival of her daughter in July.
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The 26-year-old thumped 36 winners, mostly on the forehand side, and added 29 unforced errors in a match that stretched almost two hours.
There were plenty of smiles but some frustration when she was broken while serving for the match at 5-3, world No.83 Korpatsch then saving two match points and earning two set points of her own in a tense tiebreak to decide a 70-minute second set.
Osaka’s big forehand eventually dug her out of that hole and she enjoyed signing autographs and taking selfies with fans post-match.
She also accepted a gift of a toy kangaroo from a fan as a memento for her return match.
Osaka accepts a gift from a fan after the match. Credit: Twitter
“The last couple of years I played, before I had my daughter, I didn’t return as much love as I was given,” she said, admitting there were plenty of nerves.
“That’s what I want to do in this chapter.
“I appreciate people coming out and knowing and cheering for me … it feels really surreal sometimes.”
Osaka started brilliantly, breaking Korpatsch to love in the first game and cruising in a 38-minute opening set.
She’ll meet former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova, a two-time winner in Brisbane, in the second round.
Australia’s Arina Rodionova has already progressed to the second round while fit-again Daria Saville will attempt to join them when she plays Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska later on Monday on Pat Rafter Arena.
Rain has stopped play on outside courts on Monday, with an all-Australian clash Kimberly Birrell and Olivia Gadecki among those scheduled.
Reigning Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina, Jelena Ostapenko, Victoria Azarenka, Sofia Kenin and Sloane Stephens are also in the 64-player women’s draw, one of the key tune-up events for the Australian Open in Melbourne.