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Serena, Osaka put air quality concerns, trolls aside in winning starts

Naomi Osaka won the tournament’s opening match for her dad at the Australian Open. Serena Williams won hers for her daughter.

Serena Williams put aside her concerns about the air quality at Melbourne Park as she breezed into the second round of the Australian Open on Monday to remain on course for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.

Buoyed by securing her first WTA title as a mother in Auckland two weeks ago, the 38-year-old American great kept her stay out on Rod Laver Arena to a minimum with a 6-0 6-3 trouncing of Anastasia Potapova in under an hour.

The air quality was officially rated good on Monday but Williams had not forgotten the choking smoke from Australia’s bushfires that greeted her when she arrived in Melbourne earlier this week.

“I definitely was concerned, and am. I think it changes every day,” the eighth seed told reporters.

“There is a lot of factors on how it can change. That is still a concern for pretty much everyone. Every day all the players and the tournament make sure that all the players are updated on what the play conditions would be like.

“It’s literally every day, we are just waiting every day to see how the air quality would be … Today, it seemed normal. Yeah, it seemed pretty good… It definitely felt like that.

Williams said she was particularly concerned because of the pulmonary embolism she suffered after giving birth to her daughter Olympia in 2017.

“I’m, like, ‘oh no, I’m already playing a little down than most people’,” she added.

“But we’ll see. Just have to focus on what happens and we’ll see what happens.”

The good news for Williams is that the outlook for the rest of tournament is promising, with the rain that has lashed Australia over the last few days helping contain the fires that have killed 29 people and millions of animals.

The rain also stopped play on the outside courts on Monday which means that Williams might have to wait another day to find out whether she plays Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek or South Korean wildcard Han Na-lae in the second round.

Her victory over Russian teenager Potapova to kickstart her 19th campaign at Melbourne Park was no great surprise given she has now lost only once in 74 first-round matches at Grand Slams.

“I felt like I started out really well, played really strong in the first set and just building on that,” she said.

“So, I feel like I can still improve and get better throughout this tournament, for sure. This is a good stepping stone for right now.”

An eighth title at Melbourne Park would bring Williams level with Australian Margaret Court as the most prolific Grand Slam singles winner in the history of the game — a feat she said had been on her mind.

“I think it’s factored a lot into my game, and now it’s just more or less about doing the best that Serena Williams can do,” she said.

“Margaret Court was a wonderful, great champion. And now how great is Serena Williams?

“That’s it. That’s kind of what I have been thinking about the last couple of weeks and months. It definitely helps me relax a lot.”

Osaka fires back at social media troll after Melbourne win

Defending champion Naomi Osaka fired back at a social media user who jeered her arrival on court before her 6-2 6-4 victory over Czech Republic’s Marie Bouzkova in the Australian Open first round on Monday.

The 22-year-old from Japan next faces China’s Zheng Saisai, who needed just 72 minutes to beat Russian qualifier Anna Kalinskaya 6-3 6-2.

Osaka, who admitted to some nerves entering the tournament as defending champion, was less than impressed with one social media user who wrote “Boooooooooooo” on the event’s official Twitter page as it announced the match was about to start.

Osaka responded after the match with a tweet of her own, asking, “are you big mad or little mad?”, then told reporters she could not understand why someone would attack her for no apparent reason.

“She was hating. What would her children think? You’re just going to come on the Internet and boo me for no reason? I didn’t do anything to you,” Osaka said when asked about the exchange.

“She was very upset. I also wonder, people like this, if they see you in person, I wonder what they would do?”

Having won her second Grand Slam title on Rod Laver Arena last year, Osaka was given the honour of opening the tournament in 2020 and looked nervous as she walked through the tunnel bearing the banners of previous champions, including her own.

She struggled at times early on but did what she had to by relying on a big serve and powerful forehand against the 21-year-old Bouzkova, who last year made the Toronto semi-finals.

Osaka’s most potent weapons helped her save five of six break points, but also broke a cord that anchors the net when the ball cannoned into it for a fault.

Play was held up for about five minutes as officials scrambled fixed it.

Osaka managed to stay on serve in the first set and while it took her five break-point opportunities in the fifth game, she finally got the advantage she needed before breaking again in the seventh.

She sealed the first set in 36 minutes with a forehand winner.

Swirling winds made life difficult for both players and with Osaka making errors after error, the Czech looked to have seized the momentum when she broke in the sixth game of the second set for a 4-2 lead.

Any thoughts of an upset quickly disappeared, however, when she served a double fault on break point in the next game and her angry swipe at the ball earned her a code violation when it sliced into the crowd.

Osaka wasted little time in clinching the next three games, with Bouzkova winning a total of just four points, and she sealed victory when the Czech sent a backhand wide after 80 minutes.

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