Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic gave Naomi Osaka a run for her money in the Japanese’s first match since winning the Australian Open but the world No.2 eventually proved too strong, prevailing 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 in their Miami Open clash.
Tomljanovic, Australia’s No.2 behind Ash Barty, again produced a performance which belied her world ranking of 77 as she gave Osaka plenty of problems in the opening set of their second round encounter on Friday.
But in oppressive, gusty conditions, Osaka’s class – and huge serving – materialised at the crucial moments as she battled through to win a compelling tussle in one hour 41 minutes.
Ultimately, Tomljanovic’s 24 unforced errors rather outstripped the good work she’d done with her 16 winners as she contemplated what might have been.
For Osaka, it meant a 22nd straight victory in all matches, her last defeat coming 13 months ago to Sara Sorribes Tormo in the Billie Jean King Cup.
Admitting afterwards that it had been hard work in her first contest since she won her grand slam in Melbourne against Jennifer Brady a month ago, Osaka noted on court that the difference had been that “I was able to serve well when it really, really mattered.”
In a high-quality opening set with Tomljanovic’s power more than matching Osaka stroke for stroke, the Australian even served for the first set at 5-4 only to falter and get broken to love.
Tomljanovic earned another break point for 6-5 but once that was repelled, Osaka took control, helped by a vastly-improved serve which saw her send down 13 aces, and ended up reeling off six of the last seven points in the tiebreak.
Tomljanovic was again competitive in the second set which went with serve until she again showed frailty, serving a double fault to allow Osaka to earn the decisive break for 5-4.
“This is my first match since Australia, so I just really wanted to play well,” Osaka said.
“I kind of feel like I’m at home here, because I grew up (near Miami) for most of my life.”
Rockingham’s Storm Sanders, the other Australian woman in action on Friday, had earlier also suffered a straight sets defeat to American Jessica Pegula 6-3 6-4.