Eleven months ago, Naomi Osaka left Rod Laver Arena with her fourth Grand Slam trophy in hand. She returned to the site on Tuesday to play — and win — her first match since September.
The top seed at the WTA 250 Melbourne Summer Set 1, Osaka, now ranked No.13, opened her 2022 season with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win over France's Alizé Cornet.
Osaka ended her 2021 season prematurely after a third-round loss to Leylah Fernandez at the US Open on Sept. 3, but extended her winning streak at Melbourne Park to eight with a second career victory against Cornet that lasted 2 hours and 2 minutes.
An Aussie encore: Tuesday's match was a reunion of sorts for Osaka and Cornet, who played for the first time ahead of last year's Australian Open at the same venue. A 6-2, 6-2 victory in the second round of the Gippsland Trophy a year ago, Osaka looked on course for a repeat performance in Tuesday's opening after building a 6-3, 3-1 lead.
A five-game swing by the French veteran pushed the match to a third set, but Osaka stamped her authority early in the decider and largely never looked back. She never faced a break point in the final set, but did serve out victory from a 0-30 deficit.
Stats of the match: Osaka overcame adversity on serve admirably in victory. Despite landing just 38% of her first serves and hitting eight double faults, the former World No.1 never faced a break point in the first and third sets.
She balanced out 57 unforced errors with 51 winners, with both totals eclipsing Cornet's totals of 42 errors and 34 winners by double digits.
Pegula upset by Begu at Summer Set 2, Tauson starts emphatically
The other No. 1 seed in action Tuesday, American Jessica Pegula, also had a career result in her last trip to Melbourne Park. A quarterfinalist at the Australian Open a year ago, Pegula was unable to recapture that form in a 7-6(6), 6-3 defeat to Irina-Camelia Begu.
The World No.18, the top seed at a WTA event for the first time in her career, led 5-3 and had three set points in the opener but nonetheless dropped to 0-2 against the former World No.22 from Romania.
Begu advances to play against Italy's Jasmine Paolini, who came from a set down in her first-round victory against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Words from the winner: "It's always great to play here and I always feel good ... in Australia. It was a tough draw; it was the first match of the year and I'm trying to find my game. Today, it was a good day," Begu said. "Against Paolini, we know each other pretty well, but I'm trying to enjoy this match and this win. I'll talk to my coach and we'll try to have good tactics and play as good as today."
A trio of other seeds were emphatic winners with the loss of just 10 games combined. Leading the charge was Begu's compatriot and No.5 seed Sorana Cirstea, who scored the first main-draw double bagel of the 2022 season against Varvara Gracheva in 49 minutes. In 12 games played, Cirstea surrendered just 19 points.
No.6 seed Clara Tauson and No.7 seed Ann Li were straight-set winners against Anhelina Kalinina (7-5, 6-3) and Mayar Sherif (6-2, 6-0), respectively, while the day fittingly concluded with another marathon victory by No. 4 seed Sara Sorribes Tormo.
After playing six matches that clocked in at 3 hours or more in 2021, the Spaniard ousted Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia in 3 hours and 6 minutes, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, in her first match of 2022.