By Rory Carroll
NEWYORK (Reuters) – World number one Naomi Osaka was given a testing workout by Anna Blinkova in the U.S. Open first round on Tuesday, but the defending champion’s power and shotmaking ultimately proved too much for her opponent as she prevailed 6-4 6-7(5) 6-2.
The unseeded Blinkova raced into a 4-1 lead in the first set and a shock appeared to be in the works but Osaka cut down her errors to win five straight games and take the opener.
Yet a tenacious Blinkova refused to back down, saving a match point on Osaka’s serve in the second set before breaking her to set up a tiebreak, which the Russian won when Osaka sent a return into the net.
The 21-year-old Japanese responded by looking to her box and mimicked putting a gun to her head and pulling the trigger.
Osaka stayed composed in the third, however, breaking Blinkova to take a 3-1 lead before sealing the win with a blistering forehand winner that caught the line.
Osaka said the nerves that come with being a first-time defending champion played a part in her slow start and also gave credit to Blinkova for an impressive performance.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous in my life,” she said in an on-court interview.
“I don’t think I ever really found my rhythm, but I just fought as hard as I can.”
Osaka chose to look on the bright side of her unexpectedly competitive match against the world number 84.
“It helps me a lot because I learn from the tougher matches. It helps me prepare to have to adjust my game plan throughout the match.”
Next up for Osaka is a second round meeting with Poland’s Magda Linette on Thursday.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Toby Davis)