NEW YORK, NY, USA - Former World No.1 Naomi Osaka booked her place in the third round of the US open with a decisive win over the always dangerous Camila Giorgi, 6-1, 6-2.
The No.4 seed, who wore a mask in tribute to Elijah McClain onto the court, has never lost before the third round at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and increased that streak to five in a row on Wednesday evening after one hour and ten minutes under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"I think for me, it's just whenever I step on the court I don't think about anything but the match," Osaka said. "Any off-court things, of course it's a great motivation for me to want to do well this tournament, but for the most part I feel like I've been in quarantine and practicing so long that, I don't know, I prefer to play matches. For me, I just think about what I could do to make myself a better player, what I can do to win the match at the time."
The 2018 US Open champion was still recovering from a left hamstring injury sustained last week at the Western & Southern Open - where she was forced to withdraw from the final against fellow former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka - when she took on countrywoman Misaki Doi, who took her to three sets.
The Japanese star last played Giorgi at the Toray Pan Pacific Open shortly after the 22-year-old won her first Grand Slam title over 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and won in straight sets.
"I haven't played her in a while, but I know that she goes for things. For me it's really helpful mentally just because I know she's capable of finishing points. It gives me motive to play better, so she's not able to hit winners.
"I never want to depend on what the other person's going to do. Even if I play a power player, my goal is to be the dictator. I think that I was able to do that quite well. I think when she was hitting really hard, I was able to neutralize. When I had the chance, I went for the ball that I wanted."
Osaka was even more emphatic to kick off the night session, racing out to a 5-0 lead as Giorgi struggled to reign in her high-octane game with 11 unforced errors to just four from her higher-ranked opposition. Though the Italian, who returned to action at the 31st Palermo Ladies Open and reached the semifinals, was able to get on the board, Osaka was undeterred, serving out the set on her second set point.
The World No.9 maintained that momentum early in the second set, breaking Giorgi early on and held for a 4-2 lead as the match hit the one hour mark.
A 2018 Wimbledon quarterfinalist, Giorgi scored a breakthrough win on Arthur Ashe Stadium back in 2013 when she upset former World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki to reach her first Grand Slam second week, but couldn't quite dial in against Osaka, throwing in a fourth double fault as the No.4 seed edged within four points of victory.
Serving for the match, Osaka earned a pair of match points after a backhand miss from the unseeded Italian, who kept battling and flipped the deficit into a break point chance when the two-time major champion missed a forehand volley wide. A big serve saved the break point and another put her over the finish line two points later.
In all, she played "a clean, intelligent match," in the words of commentator and former WTA player Chanda Rubin, striking 14 winners to 11 unforced errors, converting an impressive four of seven break point opportunities while winning 79% of points behind her first serve.
"I stopped thinking about winning. I feel like I put too much pressure on myself. I'm only thinking about putting myself in a good position to win. But I'm taking it match by match."
Up next for Osaka is Ukrainian teenager Marta Kostyuk, a former Australian Open junior champion who raced into the third round of the women's singles event as a 15-year-old in 2018. Now 18, Kostyuk matched the result in New York with a impressive pair of wins over former World No.10 Daria Kasatkina and 2018 US Open semifinalist and No.31 seed Anastasija Sevastova.