BEIJING, China - For the second time in three weeks, Angelique Kerber defeated Naomi Osaka to begin her week at a Premier tournament, with the No.10 seed edging the Japanese teenager of the China Open, 6-2, 7-5.
The two have become somewhat familiar foes in the last quarter of the season, as they were facing off in the opening round of a tournament for the third time in the past month - in exactly 30 days, in fact - on Saturday in the first main draw match of the last Premier Mandatory event of 2017.
Osaka put an end to Kerber's title defense in New York at the US Open before the German got a measure of revenge a fortnight ago at Osaka's home event at the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo.
Breaking Osaka five times in 10 service games, Kerber rolled through the first set before needing to dig deep to win in straights, as she claimed five of the last six games to come from a break down in the second set.
— China Open (@ChinaOpen) September 30, 2017
Four breaks in the first five games set the tone for the match, as Kerber claimed three off Osaka's big serve to build a 4-1 lead in the opener.
The early double break lead proved more than enough to see the former World No.1 through to a one-set lead, as she served out proceedings on her first opportunity after Osaka saved a set point in the eighth game.
Though the German held at least one break point in five of the Japanese woman's first six service games, the second set proved to be the most competitive of the six that the two have played over the past 30 days.
After Osaka saved a trio of opportunities on her serve for Kerber to move ahead in the third game of the second set, she earned her first break of serve since the second game of the match to lead 4-2, looking to send a match between the two to a decider for the first time in three meetings.
Nonetheless, Kerber responded in short order, getting back on serve in the seventh game on her third opportunity, and drawing level with a hold after deuce in the eighth game.
The German broke Osaka again in the 11th game, as a trio of errors off the Japanese player's racquet put her down for the first time in the set, and Kerber comfortably served her way through to the second round in just under 90 minutes.
A total of 39 unforced errors proved to be Osaka's undoing in the match, more than twice Kerber's total of 15, as the teenager's 27 winners were not enough to see her through to a decider.
Though Osaka served at over 70% for the encounter, Kerber proved particularly effective when the World No.61 was forced to strike a second serve, winning over 65% of the points played.
The No.10 seed will next face the winner of the first round match between Chinese wildcard Wang Yafan and Alizé Cornet.