MELBOURNE, Australia - Defending champion Naomi Osaka continued her 2020 Australian Open campaign with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Zheng Saisai, advancing into the third round.
"I got really fired up when she was up, and people started clapping more because of all the drama!" explained a relaxed Osaka, who later gave a shoutout to a Twitter fan, during her on-court interview. "I was complaining over here, and almost throwing my racquet over here - I didn't though! - but it all worked out."
The former World No.1 is yet to drop a set at this year's tournament, and backed up a decisive win over Marie Bouzkova on Monday with a similarly straight-forward - but for a second set surge from Zheng - victory, after 80 minutes on Margaret Court Arena.
Though Osaka opened play in windy conditions, the No.3 seed nonetheless dictated play with her precise, flat hitting, which helped her emerge from an early exchange of breaks and move ahead 5-2 in the opening set.
"I actually didn't really feel that bad," she said of the conditions during her post-match press conference. "I'm not going to call any tournaments out, but there are a couple of tournaments that are notorious for being extremely windy. Compared to that, it's not bad."
"I think I got that all out after my experience at the US Open," Osaka said when asked about being a defending champion at a Grand Slam tournament. "I just think of it as a new tournament. The only thing that may have changed is that people might want to beat me more. I didn't deal with that well after this tournament last year, I'll tell you. Now I think of it as a nice challenge. Someone wanting to play their best against me is something I have to feel fortunate about, because it's how I get better."
Zheng enjoyed a career renaissance in 2019 after winning the biggest title of her career at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, and kept battling even as Osaka engineered a slew of set points on the Chinese star's serve. While Zheng tied the game from 0-40 down, Osaka held her ground, sweeping the set on her fourth opportunity.
Another exchange of breaks ensued in the second set, but this time it was Zheng who came out on top, taking a 4-2 lead as frustration began to build for Osaka. Facing the prospect of a deciding set, the 22-year-old found her range once more and brought the set back onto her terms as she rolled off three games in a row.
"I just wanted to fight. I know I've been in these positions on this court before, and I've had to play third sets, so I was just thinking about how I really didn't want to play a third set this time."
The No.3 seed played the final game with aplomb, blasting winners to earn a pair of match points, and only needed one as Zheng threw in a double fault.
In all, she struck 20 winners and 30 unforced errors and broke serve six times, winning over half of her points played on return and allowing Zheng just five points on her second serve.
Standing between Osaka and a spot in the second week is a US Open rematch with American Coco Gauff, who earned a second win over Venus Williams earlier in the week. Gauff upset another former Top 20 player in Sorana Cirstea on Rod Laver Arena earlier today.
"I don't really know what to think right now. Because I would have to watch them play, and I actually watched Venus play Coco."
Osaka and Gauff stole headlines in their third round clash under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium, sharing the post-match interview following Osaka's win over the 15-year-old.