Naomi Osaka is enjoying a wonderful start to 2016. The 18-year-old Japanese player, who is no longer restricted in the number of tournaments she can play, has already won ten matches this year; Osaka won two qualifying matches in Brisbane, three in Hobart to qualify for the main draw, and then saved match points in her first round match against Jarmila Wolfe. Osaka then went straight to Melbourne and won another three matches in qualifying, all in straight sets, successfully allowing her to participate in her first Grand Slam main draw.
Osaka produced a smart and measured display to defeat Donna Vekic in the first round, 6-3 6-2, in 72 minutes. I was really impressed with the Japanese player who raced out into a 5-1 first set lead. She has a nice way about her and comes across very relaxed on court. Vekic was pretty wild with her groundstrokes, going for crazy winners and not looking particularly stable. The wheels started to come off a little for Osaka with Vekic getting a couple of games and rushing her into errors but Vekic was too inconsistent to maintain her level. Osaka dominated the second set, hitting some lovely forehands. I loved how she kept going behind Vekic with that shot. Osaka finished with 23 winners to 21 unforced errors while Vekic’s 29 unforced errors was ultimately the undoing of her.
Osaka’s reward is a tantalising second round match with Elina Svitolina. The 21-year-old Ukranian won her first match, also for the loss of five games, against Victoria Duval, 6-2 6-3. It was the second time Svitolina had played Duval as the pair had played in Hopman Cup singles action with Duval winning exactly the same number of games. Svitolina played well at the Hopman Cup, earning a first ever win (though not technically counted) against Karolina Pliskova. However, she lost her final singles match in the final to Daria Gavrilova; the Aussie was rewarded for her positive play with Svitolina missing a string of set points.
Head-to-head record: The pair have played once before with Svitolina defeating Osaka… in Osaka! The scoreline was 3-6 6-3 6-4.
Analysis: Osaka has made a great start to the year and is still very much, an unknown quantity on tour, which makes her very dangerous. She will likely go for more than Svitolina and make it a tricky encounter for the Ukranian player. While Osaka definitely has a shot in this one, i’d probably still go with Svitolina. I’ve underestimated her before and while still sitting back a little too much to make big strides up the rankings (in my opinion), she’s still a very consistent player who gets lots of balls back and does everything well. I’m super excited to see what Osaka can do through the rest of the year though…
Prediction: Svitolina d. Osaka in 3 sets