BRISBANE: Reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka cruised past Australian qualifier Destanee Aiava to reach the quarter-finals of the Brisbane International on Tuesday.
In a battle of two powerful ball strikers, the Japanese star was too consistent for her rival, winning 6-3, 6-2 in just 68 minutes.
Osaka burst to prominence when she defeated Serena Williams to win the US Open in September, becoming the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles title.
She rose to number four in the world in October and finished the year ranked fifth.
She was a class above Aiava, who was able to put Osaka under pressure at times, but was unable to do so often enough.
“I felt like I was playing a younger version of me,” the 21-year-old Osaka said of her 18-year-old opponent.
“I felt like when I was playing her she sort of matched my power, which was really surprising to me, because there’s not that many people that can do that.”
Osaka added that she had felt the pressure of going into the match as favourite.
“I was really nervous coming out here because I felt like this is one of the matches I’m expected to win,” she said.
“But playing against someone like her who’s a bit unpredictable and very strong, it was like one of those moments where I felt like I just have to stay really calm, but I couldn’t.
“So I’m just really happy that I could play well.”
Earlier, Britain’s Johanna Konta sent third seeded American Sloane Stephens packing with a straight sets win.
In a tough first round draw, Konta outlasted the 2017 US Open champion and world number six 6-4, 6-3.
“She’s top 10 and she’s had an incredible couple of seasons,” Konta said.
“I definitely take a lot of good things from that and… a bit of a pat on the back for me that I competed well against one of the best players in the world and I came through.”
Konta will take on Alja Tomljanovic for a place in the quarter-finals after the Australian came from a set down to beat Czech Katerina Siniakova 1-6, 6-3, 6-0.
Belarus’s Aliaksandra Sasnovich will play top seed and defending champion Elina Svitolina in the second round in a rematch of the 2018 final.
Sasnovich was too consistent for Russian qualifier Anastasia Potapova 6-4, 7-5.
Latvia’s eighth seed Anastasija Sevastova had an impressive 6-3, 6-3 win over local favourite Daria Gavrilova, while fourth seeded Czech Petra Kvitova survived a scare to down American Danielle Collins 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (8/6), 6-3. —AFP