Madrid, April 30 (IANS) Playing her first match on clay in nearly two years, world No. 2 Naomi Osaka recovered from a slow start to defeat qualifier Misaki Doi 7-5, 6-2 in the first round of the Madrid Open on Friday.
The reigning US Open and Australian Open champion had withdrawn from last year's autumn clay swing due to a hamstring injury and had not competed on clay since her third-round loss to Katerina Siniakova at Roland Garros 2019.
But Osaka has stated that mastering the natural surfaces, where she is yet to reach a WTA final, is a goal for 2021.
Against Japanese compatriot Doi, she kept her focus to edge a tight first set before asserting her authority in the second, eventually tallying 26 winners to 15 unforced errors, according to wtatennis.com.
Doi got off to a superb start, swatting away drive volleys and dictating off the ground with her left-handed forehand. But the World No.79's high-risk game also leaked errors, and after missing three points for a 3-0 lead, Osaka took control.
Increasingly comfortable in longer exchanges and finding some remarkable angles, Osaka won five out of six games to advance to 5-3. A flurry of unforced errors prevented her from serving the set out at the first go, but after battling through six deuces to break Doi again for 6-5, the former World No. 1 made no mistake the second time.
Osaka's serve grew in effectiveness as the match went on. She lost just four points behind it in the second set as she sped through to set up a second-round date against Australian Open semi-finalist Karolina Muchova. The Czech needed just 69 minutes to dismiss Wang Qiang 6-1, 6-3.
Fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka overcame the experience of qualifier Vera Zvonareva and her own stubborn streak to win her opener 6-1, 6-2 in 66 minutes. The Belarusian landed 37 winners to former world No.2 Zvonareva's six, and dropped serve just once.
Sabalenka's primary struggle was with her drop shot. She had excelled with the shot en route to the Stuttgart final last week, but was 0 for 5 on it in the first set today. Nonetheless, Sabalenka persisted, and it eventually paid off. Overall, she would only win three points from her 11 drop shot attempts, but the last of those sealed match point for her.
The result is Sabalenka's first career main draw win in Madrid on her third appearance in the Spanish capital. In 2018, she came through qualifying but fell to Bernarda Pera in the first round, and in 2019 Svetlana Kuznetsova halted her at the first hurdle.