Tennis: Halep, Osaka, Serena cruise into second round as Australian Open gets under way

Naomi Osaka won the first four games and continued the momentum.
Naomi Osaka won the first four games and continued the momentum.PHOTO: AFP

MELBOURNE (AFP) - World No. 3 Naomi Osaka started her Australian Open in style Monday (Feb 8) with an easy straight-sets victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova as the delayed Grand Slam finally got under way.

The Japanese star faced a potentially tricky first-round contest against the world number 39, but made light work of the Russian 6-1, 6-2 in 68 minutes.

"I was really nervous coming into this match. I just wanted to play well," Osaka, who hit 18 winners, told a smattering of spectators on Rod Laver Arena.

The 23-year-old, seeded three in Melbourne Park, looked physically strong having withdrawn from the warm-up Gippsland Trophy in the semi-finals, blaming a long-standing shoulder problem.

Osaka, whose flashy attire included leggings and pink shoes, skirt and wristbands, won the first four games and continued the momentum as she relentlessly worked Pavlyuchenkova around the court with powerful groundstrokes.

The three-time Grand Slam winner stretched her streak to 15 matches unbeaten - including the US Open final - dating back 12 months.

Osaka, who won the 2019 Australian Open, plays former top 10 player Caroline Garcia of France or Slovenia's Polona Hercog in the second round.

Second seed Simona Halep also skipped briskly into the second round with a businesslike 6-2 6-1 demolition of local wildcard Lizette Cabrera.

The Romanian looked in fine form as she moved her opponent around the Rod Laver Arena court apparently at will and seized her break-point opportunities with alacrity.

Halep, a semi-finalist last year and finalist in 2018, wrapped up the contest inside an hour with a sixth break of serve and moved on to face another Australian in Ajla Tomljanovic.

Also into the last 64 was Serena Williams, who started her quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title by thrashing Laura Siegemund. The 39-year-old, playing an unparallelled 100th match at the tournament, looked sharp and smashed 16 winners in the 6-1, 6-1 romp in 56 minutes.

“This was a good start, it was vintage Serena,” she said.

Williams, wearing a striking multi-coloured, one-legged catsuit, was broken in the opening game but hit back immediately and kept her foot on the pedal in a one-sided contest.

She showed no ill-effects of a shoulder injury that ruled her out of the semi-finals of the warm-up Yarra Valley Classic.

Williams has also been battling a lingering Achilles injury first sustained at last year’s US Open, but has been in strong form so far in Melbourne.

The American, seeded 10th in her 20th Australian Open, needs one more major to equal Margaret Court’s record Grand Slam tally.

She has not added to her glittering collection since beating her sister Venus in the Australian Open final in 2017 when she was pregnant with daughter Olympia.

Williams, the seven-time Australian Open champion, will play Serbia’s Nina Stojanovic in the second round.