NEW YORK -- Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins defeated two-time champion Naomi Osaka 7-6(5), 6-3 in the first round of the US Open. Seeded No.19, Collins snapped her three-match losing streak with a powerful baseline display to earn her first win in four tries against Osaka. She will face Spain's Cristina Bucsa in the next round.
"When you lose to someone three times you get a lot of information on what you can do better," Collins said. She had been 0-6 in sets against Osaka.
"With Naomi being the player that she is, she definitely whooped me the last time. I just had to learn from that and make adjustments and I think I did that."
Three takeaways on Collins' triumphant return to New York:
The hitting in this match was magnificent: After Osaka burst to a 3-0 lead in under 10 minutes, Collins responded immediately to level the score at 3-3. From there, the quality of shot-making rose with every game, with both women going toe-to-toe for power.
"I got lucky in some big moments," Collins said. "But I was working really hard for the points. She wasn't giving me a ton much free ones. Really overall I think it was a solid match, high level of tennis from both of us."
After saving a late break point to hold to 6-5, Osaka found herself down an early mini-break in the tiebreak. But a double fault and backhand error from Collins allowed Osaka to level at 4-4. The American responded by hitting a desperation lob winner that stunned Osaka when it landed in.
The margins continued to be razor thin as the set inched toward the finish, as Osaka saved one set point only to see the set disappear with a forehand error.
Danielle Collins' cmon: elite. pic.twitter.com/KdNUIPyOda— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 31, 2022
After a long absence, Collins makes a statement: Tennis is a fickle sport with a short memory. Jessica Pegula comes into this tournament as the highest-ranked American, with Coco Gauff and Madison Keys as plausible title favorites.
But it was Collins who set the bar for the American contingent at the start of the season. Her run to the Australian Open final boosted her into the Top 10 and she could count herself as the standard-bearer for American tennis until Pegula overtook her in July.
Seeded No.19, Collins came into New York well under the radar. She had not played since Lausanne in July and had lost her last three matches dating back to Roland Garros. After Lausanne, she chose to step away from the tour to address a neck injury and put in a solid training block.
But Collins cut a relaxed and confident figure in her pre-match interview with Pam Shriver, saying this was as healthy and fit as she's felt all season. It showed.
"When I made finals in Australian Open, I didn't play any warmup tournaments," Collins said. "That gave me a lot of confidence. I was thinking my best results in Slams have been when sometimes I don't play a warmup tournament. I made the quarterfinals of the French back in 2020. Didn't play any clay court tournaments that year before. Just went out and felt really good. I guess it works for me sometimes."
Every shot that Osaka screamed her way was met with an even bigger ball off Collins' racquet. And if there was any rust, Collins showed no signs of it. In a match that combined for 48 winners, two from Collins' trusty Babolat stood out. Her stunning stab lob at 4-4 in the first-set tiebreaker and another clutch desperation volley to save break point in the fourth game of the second set. Those are shots you miss when you've been sidelined from competition. Collins nailed them.
Collins finished the match with 23 winners to 24 unforced errors. She converted three of the five break points she earned while saving six of eight on her own serve.
Osaka played a stellar match but came up short: The two-time champion said she was feeling anxious ahead of tough opener. Unseeded and ranked No.44, Osaka was the underdog on paper. She had not won back-to-back matches since her run to the final in Miami in April.
Despite her lack of momentum, Osaka played a strong match. She finished with 25 winners to 19 unforced errors, striking eight aces to zero double faults. Serving at 65%, she won 80% of her first serve points and landed 67% of her returns.
"I thought she was really aggressive on my second serve, so I had to change it up a little bit," Osaka said. "She still was able to be quite aggressive, so I thought that was really good on her. I also felt like her plan was to immediately put me in defense, so she would have hit the ball no matter what type of ball I hit on her side of the court."
Ultimately, the difference was a handful points as well as Osaka's second serve. She won just 23% behind it. But that's all it takes on a fast hard court when one of the game's best ball-strikers is playing in her element.