Australian Open champ Naomi Osaka sees off Alize Cornet in rusty return match

The match was the first since Naomi Osaka announced she was taking an indefinite break from tennis following her loss to Fernandez at Flushing Meadows. 

Australian Open champ Naomi Osaka sees off Alize Cornet in rusty return match

Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka was rusty on her return to action for the first time in four months but still advanced to the second round of the Melbourne Summer Set tournament with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win over Alize Cornet on Tuesday (January 4). Osaka, who last played competitively when she lost to Leylah Fernandez in the third round of the US Open in September, displayed plenty of her trademark power but often lacked accuracy at the Australian Open warm-up event.

The Japanese player struggled with her first serve while committing 57 unforced errors, including eight double faults, as she eventually saw off the former world number 11. “I feel like I probably made a lot of unforced errors today but I kind of expected that because it is the first match,” said Osaka.

“I was really nervous so I`m just glad that I was able to hold my serve on the last game.”

The match was the first since Osaka announced she was taking an indefinite break from tennis following her loss to Fernandez at Flushing Meadows. That decision brought an end to a season that had also seen her withdraw from the French Open citing mental health issues and miss Wimbledon during a mid-season hiatus.

Playing on the same Rod Laver Arena court where she has won two Australian Open titles, the former world number one looked to be in a relaxed mood in the opening set in front of a small crowd. “I really love playing here,” said Osaka. “I love New York, but this might be my favourite Slam so it feels really good to always be back here. It feels really nice to play in front of people.”

The 24-year-old squandered three break points in the fifth game but made amends two games later to take the opener. After an early break in the second set, Osaka looked to be heading for a comfortable win but the loss of four consecutive games saw Cornet pull level.

Osaka, who is now ranked number 13 in the world, regained her poise early in the third set, winning the first three games before closing out the match.

Alexander Zverev keeps Germany hopes alive in ATP Cup

World No. 3 Alexander Zverev topped American Taylor Fritz 6-4, 6-4 to keep alive Germany’s ATP Cup semi-final hopes on Tuesday, while Matteo Berrettini powered Italy to victory against France at the Sydney Super Dome. After Jan-Lennard Struff survived a 34-ace onslaught from John Isner to prevail 7-6(7), 4-6, 7-5, Zverev broke Fritz early in both sets before capitalising on a sixth match point en route to victory in the Group C tie.

The win moved Germany, who lost to Britain in their opener, to 1-1 in the group before they face Canada on Thursday. “Until the last game it was a good level for my second match of year. It was very intense and hard hitting,” said Zverev, who will be gunning for glory at the Australian Open this month.

“The most important thing is that team Germany won and we gave ourselves the best chance to qualify for the semi-finals."

Alexander Zverev in action at the ATP Cup. (Photo: Reuters)

World No. 7 Berrettini saw off Ugo Humbert 6-4, 7-6(6) in Group B after Jannik Sinner had defeated Arthur Rinderknech 6-3, 7-6(3). Humbert had stunned Russian world number two Daniil Medvedev on Sunday and threatened another upset after forcing a tiebreak in the second set, but Berrettini dominated with his serve to clinch the tie for Italy.

“(It was) a really tough match, especially in these conditions. He’s a great server, a tricky player,” said Berrettini, who lost his opening singles match to Australian Alex de Minaur. “I had to play my best tennis in the important moments to win the match... I’m really happy (with) my performance.”

US Open champion Medvedev will take on De Minaur later on Tuesday as Russia continue the defence of their ATP Cup title against Australia. Canadian Denis Shapovalov will face Britain`s Dan Evans while Felix Auger-Aliassime takes on Cameron Norrie in Group C in the other evening ties on Ken Rosewall Arena.

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