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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, August 2, 2022

 
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In her first match since May, Naomi Osaka returned with a bang blasting 11 aces in a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 win over Zheng Qinwen in San Jose.

Photo credit: Getty

Tap-dancing inside the baseline, Naomi Osaka was a woman in motion even when the ball wasn't in play.

An eager and energetic Osaka hit the ground running in her San Jose return tonight.

More: Osaka Reunites with Dad as Coach

Osaka drilled 11 aces and denied seven of eight break points defeating talented teenager Zheng Qinwen 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in her San Jose opener.

It was Osaka's first match since she lost to Amanda Anisimova 7-5, 6-4 in her Roland Garros opener on May 23rd.




On a day that saw American Shelby Rogers sweep 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu 6-4, 6-2, Osaka looked pumped to play and said she was pleased with her performance.

"It's really cool to be back playing," Osaka told Andrew Krasny in her on-court interview. "I haven't played since May/ I didn't know that, but someone told me that.

"It's really good to be back. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of good matches in this tournament so it will be fun."

An Achilles injury knocked Osaka out of the entire grass-court season. She split with coach Wim Fissette last month and arrived in San Jose with just 17 matches on the season and a trusted ally at her side. 

This is Osaka's first tournament reuniting with her father and original coach, Leonard François, as her "head coach."

In this comeback match, Osaka moved fluidly, permitted just eight points on first serve and delivered some courageous serving strikes to erase break points tonight. Back on her favored hard courts, Osaka looked completely comfortable in a high-quality comeback.

Osaka played like vintage Osaka. More importantly, she looked happy to be competing and smiled several times on court. Afterward, Osaka credited her father for infusing positive energy and reconnecting her with her roots.

"My dad, he's the guy with the sunglasses, this is our first tournament back together and it's really good for him to be back because he always makes me smile," Osaka said. "He's always telling me: 'You're a tennis player. play tennis.'

"Like I know that you know what I mean. It feels really good to be back so I' m just really happy."




The 24-year-old Osaka could face Coco Gauff next if Gauff prevails in her first-rounder vs. Anhelina Kalinina today.

Under break-point pressure, Osaka brought the heat on serve. Osaka slashed an ace out wide to save another beak point. That strike helped her hold to back up the break for 3-1.

Zheng zapped a sharp-angled topspin forehand winner holding for 4-5.

Closing power is one asset that separates Osaka, when she's in form, from the rest of the pack. Osaka closed with confidence cranking a serve to slam shut the first set after 44 minutes.

The Chinese who has risen over 100 spots in the rankings over the past year, frequently went toe-to-toe with Osaka in baseline exchanges and was holding her own as the second set unfolded.

Zheng hit some twisting topspin forehands to make the ball dance and push the former No. 1 into the corners.

Staring down double break point in the eighth game, Osaka hit a bullet backhand to save the first. A judgement lapse cost the Japanese the crucial break.

Osaka incorrectly stopped play to challenge a ball she thought landed long. Replay showed Zheng's drive touched the baseline—Osaka lost the challenge and dropped serve for the first time.

Serving for the set, the teenager turned it up.

Zheng delivered a diagonal forehand and a backhand winner for triple set point. An unreturnable serve sealed the second set for the world No. 51 after one hour, 25 minutes.

It was Osaka's turn to elevate at the start of the decider.

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The four-time Gand Slam champion drew a netted backhand breaking right out of the box for 2-0.

Given her layoff and lack of recent match play, it was impressive seeing Osaka answer so many break points and game points with authoritative serving. Slamming her eighth ace, Osaka confirmed the break for a 3-0 third-set lead.

Tennis Express

Dumping a pair of double faults put Zheng in a break-point bind. Osaka jumped all over a second serve tomahawking a two-handed return crosscourt breaking with a shout extending her lead to 4-0.

Credit Zheng for continuing to take her cracks—and connecting on several—and for Osaka for bold serving. Successive aces and a dancing second serve helped Osaka deflect a sixth break point holding for 5-0. Osaka wrapped up a confident win in two hours, two minutes.


 

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