Osaka, Halep start strong at Madrid Open

Madrid, Apr 30 (EFE).- Two of the favorites at the Mutua Madrid Open – Japan’s Naomi Osaka and Romania’s Simona Halep – kicked off their title bids on Friday with straight-set victories.

Although the second-ranked Osaka was not at the top of her game early on, she got through a competitive first set and improved her level in the latter stages to record a 7-5, 6-2 first-round victory over countrywoman Misaki Doi.

Osaka’s superior serve was a key factor in the win as she won 20 of her 24 first-serve points (an 83 percent success rate), compared to Doi’s 29 of 46 (63 percent).

But she will want to raise her first-serve percentage against her next opponent, the Czech Republic’s Karolina Muchova, after putting only 46 percent of those deliveries in play on Friday.

The reigning US Open and Australian Open champion had not competed in a WTA Tour event on clay since a third-round defeat at the 2019 Roland Garros event at the hands of Katerina Siniakova, although she played (and lost) a Billie Jean King Cup match on clay against Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo early last year.

“I try to play my natural way,” tennis’ premier hard-court player said of her efforts to achieve similar success on the game’s slowest surface. “I would say if I start thinking about grinding too much, I become a bit of a pusher and it’s not really good for me. Of course you want to adapt to the clay and do things that are beneficial, but hopefully I don’t change too much.”

Halep, who already proved she could reach the summit on clay when she won the 2018 French Open, took a step toward reaching that level again by defeating Sorribes Tormo 6-0, 7-5 on Friday.

The world No. 3 has had plenty of success at the Caja Magica in the past, having won the Madrid Open in 2016 and 2017 and reaching the final in 2014 and 2019, and she found her comfort level quickly once again on Friday.

She captured 11 of the first 12 games of her first-round match before having to fend off a furious second-set comeback by the Spaniard.

“She definitely played much better in the second set and she was more aggressive,” Halep said in the post-match press conference. “I lost a little bit of concentration at 5-1, and then I started to miss a little bit more. But even if I was a set and 5-1 up, I knew that she can come back. I expected a tough battle and it was.”

Halep will next take on China’s Saisai Zheng, a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 winner Friday over Poland’s Magda Linette, in the round of 32.

A pair of Belarusians – seventh-ranked Aryna Sabalenka and 15th-ranked Victoria Azarenka – also were victorious in their first-round matches on Friday, while ninth-ranked Czech Karolina Pliskova rallied from a set down to defeat precocious American Cori Gauff 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.

The Madrid Open is the lone WTA Premier Mandatory event played on clay and the second-biggest tournament of the season on that surface for the women after the French Open, which was delayed by a week due to coronavirus concerns and will be played from May 30 to June 13. EFE


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