DUBAI, UAE - Naomi Osaka scored a commanding straight-sets win over No.8 seed Kristina Mladenovic to start her campaign at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
With such a strong field in Dubai, No.48-ranked Osaka would have originally needed to play qualifying to make it into the main draw. She received a late wildcard, though, and made good on it right away needing just over an hour to record the 6-2, 6-2 upset over the No.14-ranked Mladenovic.
“I thought I played really well,” Osaka said in her on court interview. “She’s a really great player so I feel anytime you play someone that good you have to step up your level.
“I usually play better when I play on Center Court and there’s a lot of people watching.”
Osaka was able to get a read on the normally-reliable Mladenovic serve from the very start, and kept her under pressure throughout the match. Mladenovic’s service woes played a big part, notching five double faults and putting just 53% of first serves in play.
The 20-year-old Japanese player started the first set with a commanding 5-1 double break lead before Mladenovic got one of the breaks back, dodging two set points to extend her stay in the opening set. But she couldn’t back it up in her own service game and Osaka broke once more to close it out.
A similar pattern unfolded in the second set; Osaka got ahead to an early lead at 2-0 before Mladenovic put in a herculean effort to get them back on serve. But she was once again unable to back it up in her own service game, broken once more to hand Osaka a 3-1 lead.
The Japanese player finished the match with 17 winners and 17 unforced errors, a sign of her aggressive game plan, and she converted on six of the eight break chances she created. Meanwhile Mladenovic’s 13 winners were undone by her 25 unforced errors, and she misfired at the worst moments to convert on just two of the five break chances she created.
Through to the second round in Dubai for the second year in a row, Osaka will take on the winner between Sam Stosur and Anett Kontaveit in the second round.