Comfortable Osaka eases to US Open victory

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Champion Naomi Osaka has commenced the defence of her US Open title campaign with a straight-sets win over Marie Bouzkova.

The third seed allayed any fears about a lack of matches during what has been a turbulent year after her withdrawal from the French Open and decision to skip Wimbledon.

She was made to work hard for the opening set, saving three break points at 1-1 before eventually forcing the break to clinch it in game 10.

But Osaka, a two-time champion in New York, promptly raced away in the second set to register a 6-4 6-1 victory to the delight of the big crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"It feels kind of crazy to play in front of everyone again," she said in her on court interview.

"Last year when we didn't have a crowd it felt quite lonely for me. The energy here is unmatched.

"I've played a lot of matches on this court, maybe the most in my career and I definitely feel comfortable here."

Aryna Sabalenka, the second seed from Belarus, needed three sets to get past Nina Stojanovic of Serbia.

Sabalenka, who recently overtook Osaka in the rankings, dropped the second set in a tiebreaker but powered home to win 6-4 6-7 (4-7) 6-0.

Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza, a pair of two-time grand slam champions, came through tough draws with battling two-set victories.

Halep held off Montreal champion Camila Giorgi 6-4 7-6 (7-3).

The Romanian, who did not play in last year's behind-closed-doors event, missed the French Open, Wimbledon and the Olympics with a calf injury.

"For me it was normal to have the people in the stands and the noise that is always in the US Open," Halep said.

"I started to like it. I start to embrace these things. I had fun on court, and I liked some people that were screaming in Romanian also and in English."

Muguruza, the ninth seed, also came through a tricky opening-round, advancing with a 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5) victory over Donna Vekic.

Former champion Angelique Kerber bounced back from the brink of defeat to beat Dayana Yastremska 3-6 6-4 7-6 (7-3) while fifth seed Elina Svitolina sank Rebecca Marino 6-2 6-3.

Teenager Coco Gauff came from a set down to beat Poland's Magda Linette 5-7 6-3 6-4.

"You guys really, really helped me today," Gauff told the fans in her on-court interview.

"And it almost brings me to tears because I missed playing in front of this crowd so much.

"With everything going on in the world, the support means a lot. So thank you guys for coming out."

The 17-year-old 21st seed will meet fellow American Sloane Stephens in the second round after she accounted for countrywoman Madison Keys 6-3 1-6 7-6 (9-7) in a rematch of their 2017 final.

with AP

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