WTA Brisbane: Naomi Osaka edges Maria Sakkari. Sloane Stephens bows out

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WTA Brisbane: Naomi Osaka edges Maria Sakkari. Sloane Stephens bows out

The 3rd seed Naomi Osaka is through to the second round in Brisbane, beating Maria Sakkari 6-2, 6-7 6-3 in two hours and seven minutes for the winning start of the season. It was their fourth encounter and the third win for the Japanese, all in three sets, digging deep in the closing stages of the decider to find herself in the last 16.

Osaka fired 16 aces and had the upper hand in her games, facing only three break chances and getting broken once in the decider. On the other hand, the Greek gave her best to stay in touch with the better-ranked opponent and one of the title favorites, losing serve twice in sets one and three to hit the exit door.

Fending off break chances in the fourth game of the first set, Naomi raced towards the set with breaks in games five and seven, taking 18 of the last 21 points for a 6-2. It was a great serving display in set number two from both players, reaching a tie break that Maria claimed 7-4 after three mini-breaks, setting up a decider where she opened a 2-0 lead, looking better and better on the court against a two-time Major champion.

Nonetheless, Naomi broke back in game four, returning to the positive side of the scoreboard and rattling off 12 of the last 15 points from 3-3 to cross the finish line and avoid an upset. The 8th seed Madison Keys needed 66 minutes to dismiss a qualifier Marie Bouzkova 6-3, 6-2, landing 70% of the first serve in and playing against just two break points.

Bouzkova grabbed one break but needed much more than that to stay competitive, losing half of the points in her games and getting broken five times from eight chances offered to the American. Finding the range right from the very first stroke, Madison sailed through her service games in the opener, waiting for an opportunity on the return that came in the second part of the set that came in games seven and nine for a 6-3.

Nothing changed in set number two, with three straight breaks for Keys who didn't have to spend too much time on the court before more challenging rivals in the next rounds. The 21-year-old qualifier Liudmila Samsonova took down struggling American Sloane Stephens 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 in two hours and seven minutes for the best possible start of the new season.

Serving at only 49%, the Russian hit ten aces but also 14 double faults, allowing 12 break chances to Sloane and repelling nine of those to limit the damage in her games. On the other hand, she grabbed three breaks in the right moments to emerge at the top and deliver another tough loss for Stephens who is far from her best tennis for months now.

Repelling break chances in the first game, Samsonova settled into a nice rhythm and stood as the better player in the rest of the set, taking it 6-4 with a late break in game ten. Sloane showed signs of improvement in set number two, playing well on both serve and return to clinch it 6-2 with breaks in games three and five.

As many times before, the American lost the momentum instantly, falling 4-0 behind in the decider and allowing Liudmila to seal the deal in game nine after fending off break points that could have made things more interesting.

A qualifier Yulia Putintseva defeated one of the top-10 contenders in 2020 Donna Vekic 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 in two and a half hours, overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the final set and moving forward with a break at 15 in game 12.