Naomi Osaka got off to a solid start in defense of her US Open title, recording a 6-4, 6-1 win over Czech Republic’s Marie Bouzkova that was slightly closer than the final score suggested.
Osaka and Bouzkova were dead even during a hard-fought first set of tight games, long runs and hard-hitting rallies. In the 10th game, Osaka finally forced Bouzkova into a backhand foul on her third set point to take the lead with her first service break and claim the opening set.
Osaka seemed to settle from there and shot to a 5-0 lead in the second set before Bouzkova was finally able to hold on to her serve. Osaka finished off Bouzkova in the next game with a forehand winner along the line that caught the edge of the paint.
This was a very different atmosphere from anything Osaka experienced on her march to the championship last year when there were no spectators at the tournament. She played at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday in front of nearly 20,000 fans who were loud all night and began to embrace her as one of their own fans. Osaka was born in Japan and represents that nation, but grew up mostly in New York and Florida.
“It feels kind of great to be playing for everyone again,” Osaka said after the game, “the energy here is unparalleled.”