MADRID: Naomi Osaka eased concerns about her form and fitness by coming through a tricky first round against Dominika Cibulkova on Sunday at the Madrid Open, declaring she’s “more comfortable” on clay courts than in the past.
Osaka has struggled since splitting with her coach Sascha Bajin in February while an abdominal injury forced her to withdraw in Stuttgart eight days ago, creating doubts about her challenge at the French Open later this month.
But there was little sign of physical problems during a testing 6-2, 7-6 (8-6) victory over Cibulkova and afterwards, Osaka said: “I feel good. I don’t have much pain in my abs so that’s always a good sign.”
The Japanese world number one will face Sara Sorribes in the second round after she got past fellow Spanish wild card Lara Arruabarrena.
Osaka looked set for a more comfortable passage after a dominant opening set but she was stretched by the battling Cibulkova in the second.
By the end, Osaka had hit 43 winners and eight aces while world 33 Cibulkova conjured up 23 winners.
Meanwhile, French Open champion and two-time Madrid winner Simona Halep brushed past Russian qualifier Margarita Gasparyan 6-0, 6-4.
Former world number one Caroline Woznacki’s Madrid Open lasted just minutes when she retired at 0-3 down to France’s Alize Cornet suffering with a back injury. Wozniacki, the 2018 Australian Open champion, has been battling rheumatoid arthritis in recent months.
Fifth seed Karolina Pliskova saved four match points to see off highly-rated Ukrainian teenager Dayana Yastremska 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3.
Unseeded Pauline Parmentier of France defeated Ukrainian sixth seed Elina Svitolina, who had been struggling with a knee injury, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6) and Petra Martic ousted two-time Grand Slam winner Garbine Muguruza 7-5, 7-6 (7-2), a week after the Croat won her first career title in Istanbul.
Martic will next face fourth-seeded Angelique Kerber, who broke Lesia Tsurenko six times to earn a 6-3, 6-2 victory.
US 13th seed Madison Keys was also a surprise first round loser, going down 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 to Sorana Cirstea of Romania.
However, there were no such problems for former US Open champion — and recently engaged — Sloane Stephens as the eighth seed defeated Polona Hercog of Slovenia 6-2, 7-6 (7-4).
Stephens, who announced her engagement to US football international Jozy Altidore last week, goes on to face former world number one Victoria Azarenka.
On the men’s side, Rafael Nadal knows who his first opponent will be after Felix Auger-Aliassime beat fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov, a semi-finalist last year, 6-2, 7-6 (9-7).
The 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime has reached the final in Rio and the semi-finals in Miami already this year.
Australia’s Nick Kyrgios was a 7-6 (7/4), 6-4 loser to Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, a quarter-finalist in Barcelona last month.
Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2019