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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, February 8, 2021


Naomi Osaka spent a sleepless night before her AO return then delivered an eye-opening performance pounding out a 6-1, 6-2 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Photo credit: Rob Prezioso/Tennis Australia

After a somewhat sleepless night, Naomi Osaka erupted in an eye-opening performance.

In a rematch of the 2019 Osaka final, US Open champion Osaka dismissed dangerous Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 6-2 rolling into the Australian Open second round.

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The third-seeded Japanese confessed to pre-match jitters facing the hard-hitting Pavlyuchenkova, a three-time AO quarterfinals and owner of five career titles.

Osaka nullified the nerves bursting out of the blocks to a 4-0 lead before Pavlyuchenkova finally got on the board.

Eager and efficient, Osaka converted five of seven break points and won 22 of 27 first-serve points in a sharp 68-minute victory. Osaka improved to 16-2 in Grand Slam opening round play.

"I would say definitely I was really nervous today," Osaka said afterward. "I couldn't really sleep last night. So I think for me that's normal. I can't sleep during, like, before finals and before the first rounds.

"So definitely I was nervous. I kind of expected that because I always want to do well in slams. I never want to lose in the first round."

The 2019 AO champion's title defense ended abruptly at the hands of 15-year-old Coco Gauff last year in a stinging defeat Osaka calls "shocking.".

"I think just after losing here to Coco, because she is sort of the person that I never wanted to lose to in this situation," Osaka said. "Just being the defending champion, losing to her in such a high-profile match, I think it really shocked me."

In retrospect, Osaka said her loss to Gauff followed by a dismal 6-0, 6-3 setback to Spain's Sara Sorribes Tormo in Fed Cup served as a career epiphany. The experience caused Osaka to question her motivation and reconfirm her commitment to why she was playing tennis in the first place.

"I actually played a match in Fed Cup in Spain that I don't know if a lot of people knew about," Osaka said. "There's just a lot of stuff that happened there, surrounding that time, that it really made me think a lot about my life and what is the reason, like am I playing tennis to prove stuff to other people or am I playing to have fun because I enjoy it.

"From there I just took that attitude and tried to, I don't know, move forward with it. It's something that I was doing in New York. I think that I'm doing it here, too."

Aiming for her fourth career Grand Slam title, Osaka will seek another fast start against another veteran opponent in round two when she faces 44th-ranked Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia.

Garcia smacked eight aces and won 10 of 13 trips to net defeating Polona Hercog 7-6(6), 6-3 for her fifth straight Melbourne opening-round win.

"For me, I always feel really good no matter what happens," Osaka said. "I think that I'm slowly getting used to everything that happens...

"Yeah, I think definitely the matches that I played were high quality before this tournament. I think that there's a lot of things that I learned that I wished I could apply. I feel like that was something that during the off-season I really strived towards, like, having a better return and stuff like that. I think that in all the matches that I've played, I've slowly been doing better."


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