By Talek HARRIS – Japan Today
Naomi Osaka made a winning start to her title defence at the Australian Open on Monday as the Grand Slam tournament began on schedule after a build-up hit by haze from raging bushfires.
Hazardous smog left several players with coughs and breathing difficulties during qualifying last week, prompting speculation about whether the tennis season’s first Major would be delayed.
But a full roster of matches began on time under cloudy skies at Melbourne Park, with air quality rated as ‘good’ and rain forecast.
Osaka was an early winner as she dismissed Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-4 in 80 minutes, breaking a net fitting with one powerful serve in the process.
“It was really tough for me trying to control my nerves,” said Osaka. “It’s tough to play someone you’ve never played before in the first round of a Grand Slam.”
Serena Williams blitzed the first set in 19 minutes as she launched her quest for a 24th Grand Slam title with a quickfire demolition of Anastasia Potapova.
The 38-year-old American, wearing a lilac dress and matching trainers, and sporting heavily decorated fingernails, powered past the Russian teenager 6-0, 6-3 in 58 minutes.
Australian world number one Ashleigh Barty, fresh from winning the Adelaide International on Saturday, is one of the main attractions on Monday when she plays Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko in an evening match.