NEW YORK: Japan’s Naomi Osaka showed no signs of discomfort from the injury that forced her to miss a final on Saturday but the former U.S. Open champion had to dig deep to beat compatriot Misaki Doi 6-2 5-7 6-2 in her opener at Flushing Meadows.
A left hamstring injury had forced Osaka to withdraw from the Western & Southern Open final against Victoria Azarenka but the fourth seed’s movement did not seem to be affected against Doi on Monday.
The past week saw Osaka, 22, emerge as tennis’ torchbearer in protests against racial injustice and she walked out to the court wearing a mask featuring the name of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by police officers who burst into her apartment in March.
“Actually, so I have seven (masks),” said Osaka.
“It’s quite sad that seven masks aren’t enough for all the names. Hopefully I’ll get to the final so you can see all of them.”
Osaka initially pulled out of her semi-finals at the Western & Southern Open on Thursday to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
She reversed her decision after tennis governing bodies suspended the tournament to join the protests.
With no spectators allowed into the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, large sections of seating in the Arthur Ashe Stadium court were covered with ‘Black Lives Matter’ banners.
Osaka, the 2018 champion, started strongly in the opening set as she broke Doi’s serve twice without facing a single breakpoint.
But she struggled with her serve in the second and her unforced errors mounted as the 81st-ranked Doi, who lost to Osaka in their only previous meeting in 2016, levelled the match with a second break.
Normal service was resumed in the decider, however, as Osaka broke her Fed Cup team mate early before sealing the win with a second break.
“It was very difficult and I kind of expected it because first-round nerves and also she’s a tough opponent so I knew there was a chance it would get really long,” Osaka said in a courtside interview.
“I felt like it could have been better (with my serve) but it did what it needed to do on the very important points so I can’t be that mad. I definitely need to practise some more.”
Next up for Osaka, who was born in Japan to a Haitian father and Japanese mother and moved to the United States when she was three, will be Italian Camila Giorgi, who earlier beat Alison van Uytvanck 2-6 6-1 7-5.
“She’s very unpredictable for me so I guess I’m going to have to be on my toes,” Osaka said.