Naomi Osaka opened her US Open title defence with a stuttering start but finished with aplomb to beat Russia’s Anna Blinkova 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2.
Osaka returned to the scene of her first grand slam title preoccupied by a knee injury after she was forced to retire from her quarter-final match in Cincinnati. After limping off the court on 16 August she was resolute: “In the end, I’m going to play the US Open even if the doctor says no.”
Osaka had a support on her left knee but her movement looked comfortable throughout. It was her ground strokes that were the problem as she struggled to find consistency.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous in my life,” Osaka said. “She played really amazing and for me I just came off really slow. For me, I don’t think I found my rhythm but I fought as hard as I could.”
Osaka reeled off five games in a row to take the first set 6-4 but after grabbing hold of the match the world No 1 lost the tie-break in the second. Early in the final set, Osaka was forced to save three break points.
“You kind of want to do well after I did well last year,” she said. “I really love you guys and I wanted to stay here longer, that’s why I almost played a three-hour set. I really didn’t want to lose in the first round.
“I didn’t smile that much playing this match. Hopefully I’ll change that in the next round. It’s a way to relax and enjoy myself because tennis is a game.”
The 19-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu, who captured the Rogers Cup title in Toronto earlier this month, eased past the 17-year-old Katie Volynets 6-2, 6-4. The sixth seed, Petra Kvitova, shook off a forearm injury that has troubled her throughout the year, defeating the qualifier Denisa Allertova 6-2, 6-4. Kiki Bertens, seeded seventh, overpowered Paula Badosa Gibert 6-4, 6-2. The main casualty was the struggling 24th seed Garbiñe Muguruza, who lost 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 to Alison Riske.