By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Naomi Osaka marched confidently into the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday, overpowering Caroline Garcia 6-2 6-3 with a rock-solid performance at the Rod Laver Arena.
The Japanese third seed fired six aces at her French opponent in the first set and four in the second. Garcia was unable to muster up a single break point over the contest.
The 2019 Australian Open champion said she had started the match wary of the threat posed by Garcia, a former world number four now ranked 43rd.
“I needed to stay focused the whole match,” said Osaka.
“She’s a tricky player and you never know what she’s going to come up with. Yes, just staying within myself.”
Osaka lit up the court like a beacon in a fluro orange skirt as Garcia’s cyan outfit all but disappeared into the blue background of the playing surface.
The showpiece court was only half full on the sort of balmy summer evening that in normal times would have guaranteed a full house given the talent on show.
Wary fans have stayed away as a small coronavirus outbreak linked to a hotel near Melbourne airport caused neighbouring South Australia state to shut its borders as of Wednesday night.
“Thank you for coming out,” Osaka said to the crowd after the match.
“It really means a lot to us.”
Osaka’s post-match comments were the usual mix of pleasantries and personal – “I’m just staying in my room watching Netflix” – but there was nothing whimsical about her performance.
The 23-year-old found the corners with her shots as she fired 23 winners over the one-hour contest, wrapping up the victory with an emphatic 181 km per hour (121 mph) ace.
The U.S. Open champion, whose last defeat in a WTA tournament was to Coco Gauff in the third round at Melbourne Park last year, will next face Ons Jabeur.
“She’s really funny and nice and I think the match I play against her will be really difficult, but I’m looking forward to it,” she smiled.
(Additional reporting by Melanie Burton, editing by Robert Birsel)