Tennis: Naomi Osaka sees off Maria Sakkari challenge to advance in Brisbane

Naomi Osaka hits a return against Maria Sakkari during their women's singles match on day two of the Brisbane International tennis tournament on Jan 7, 2020.
Naomi Osaka hits a return against Maria Sakkari during their women's singles match on day two of the Brisbane International tennis tournament on Jan 7, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

BRISBANE (REUTERS) - Two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka began her 2020 season with a 6-2, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3 win over Maria Sakkari in the opening round of the Brisbane International on Tuesday (Jan 7).

Osaka fired 16 aces and broke her Greek opponent four times in the 2hr 7min encounter, but struggled in the second set tiebreak when Sakkari won five points in a row before squaring the match on an unforced error from the Japanese.

The pair traded breaks in the opening stages of the final set before former world No. 1 Osaka clinched victory, despite double faulting on her first match point.

"I knew going into it that it was going to be a really hard match," Osaka said. "I think in the second set I was just complaining a lot in the tiebreak. I was just trying to calm down and stay positive."

Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens, 24th in the WTA rankings, fell at the first hurdle to Liudmila Samsonova, who is ranked more than 100 places below her. The 129th ranked Russian won 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

Stephens' compatriot and eighth seed Madison Keys advanced with a 6-3, 6-2 win over the Czech Republic's Marie Bouzkova.

Maria Sharapova will play Jennifer Brady later on Tuesday in her first match since exiting last year's US Open in the first round.