INDIAN WELLS, March 10: World No. 1 Naomi Osaka launched her Indian Wells WTA title defence with a 6-3, 6-4 victory in a grudge match against Kristina Mladenovic on Saturday.
Osaka, whose second straight Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January propelled her to the top of the rankings, was beaten by 65th-ranked Mladenovic in Dubai last month in her first match since she lifted the trophy in Melbourne.
Keen to avoid a repeat, Osaka marched through the opening set in 38 minutes, but she hit a speed bump as she was broken when serving for the match at 5-2 in the second.
After Mladenovic held serve to narrow the deficit to 5-4, the Japanese player faced another break point before wrapping up the match after one hour and 21 minutes.
�The last time I played her I lost, so anything�s a bonus,� Osaka said, adding that she felt a few butterflies before opening the first title defence of her career.
Her surprise triumph at Indian Wells last year launched a 2018 campaign that would eventually include her first Grand Slam crown at the US Open.
�I�ve never been a defending champion before, that�s new and I was really nervous,� said Osaka, who booked a third-round meeting with American Danielle Collins, a 6-4, 6-1 winner over Kirsten Flipkens.
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams pulled off the upset of the day, rallying from a set and two breaks down to topple third-seeded Petra Kvitova 4-6, 7-5, 6-4.
�I just fought and tried my hardest,� said Williams, currently ranked 36th in the world.
�A double break is not ideal against a great server, especially a left-handed server,� Williams said, adding that the secret to coming back was �just being in the moment�. � AFP