Shaky start to No. 1 Naomi Osaka’s U.S. Open title defense

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NEW YORK — Naomi Osaka put her right hand in the shape of a gun and pointed two fingers at her temple, her face grim, while she looked toward her guest box.

She’d just dropped the second set, moments after wasting a match point, as her U.S. Open title defense got off to a shaky start Tuesday. Her body language told the story: the eye rolls, the balled up fists covering her face at a changeover, the racket resting atop her head.

Back in Arthur Ashe Stadium, where she beat Serena Williams in last year’s chaotic final, the No. 1-seeded Osaka kept digging holes and kept climbing out of them, eventually emerging with a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2 victory over 84th-ranked Anna Blinkova of Russia in the first round.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous in my life,” Osaka told the crowd during her post-match interview. “For me, I just came off really slow and I never really found my rhythm.”

The 21-year-old from Japan wore a black sleeve over her left knee, which has been an issue recently.

But it wasn’t so much her movement as her erratic strokes that presented problems for Osaka, who finished with 50 unforced errors, more than double Blinkova’s total of 22.

“You kind of want to do well after you did well last year,” Osaka said, when asked why she felt so many jitters while trailing 3-0 and 4-1 at the outset.

“Just definitely,” she said, “didn’t want to lose in the first round.”

Osaka avoided that sort of disappointment. Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 21-year-old from Greece who was seeded No. 8, did not. He lost in the first round for the second Slam in a row – and made a lot of noise on his way out, saying during a late dispute with chair umpire Damien Dumusois: “You’re all weirdos.”

After getting broken to trail 4-3 in the last set of his 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 7-5 loss to Andrey Rublev, Tsitsipas was fiddling around with a plastic bag of sweat bands and head wraps at a changeover when Dumusois announced it was time for play to resume.

Tsitsipas said he wasn’t ready; Dumusois, essentially, told him that was too bad. Tsitsipas told the official, who already had warned him about getting coaching help, to go ahead and call him for a violation; Dumusois obliged, docking a point.

“This chair umpire, I don’t know, he has something against me. I don’t know why,” said Tsitsipas, who upset Roger Federer en route to the Australian Open semifinals in January but bowed out of Wimbledon in the first round.

Another highly seeded man went out when No. 10 Roberto Bautista Agut, a Wimbledon semifinalist, was defeated by Mikhail Kukushkin 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, while No. 14 John Isner and 2014 champion Marin Cilic each won in straight sets. No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 4 Dominic Thiem were in later matches.

In other women’s results on Day 2, two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza was eliminated by Alison Riske of the U.S. 2-6, 6-1, 6-3, while two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova and No. 13 seed Belinda Bencic both won in two sets.

During the professional era, which began in 1968, only two U.S. Open women’s champions have lost in the first round the following year: It happened in 2005 to Svetlana Kuznetsova and again in 2017 to Angelique Kerber – who was beaten by none other than Osaka, ranked 45th at the time and yet to get past the third round at a major tournament.

Osaka thought back to that match Tuesday.

“I could kind of see how stressed out (Kerber) was and that was in my favor,” Osaka said. “I don’t want to give people that look.”

This victory, difficult as it was, stretched Osaka’s winning streak in hard-court Grand Slam matches to 15, which includes her run to the titles at Flushing Meadows in 2018 and at the Australian Open in January.

Those helped her become the first Japanese tennis player to be ranked No. 1, a spot she regained this month.

Osaka has spoken rather openly about the struggles she’s had dealing with pressure and expectations this season. She said Tuesday that she hoped figuring out how to get past Blinkova – who is now 0-2 at the U.S. Open and 0-4 against top-10 opponents – would boost her moving forward.

“It helps me a lot, because I learn from the tougher matches,” Osaka said. “It helps me be prepared and try to learn and adjust my game plan.”

Coco Gauff, Jessica Pegula reach Miami Open 3rd round

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Sixth-seeded Coco Gauff opened her 2023 Miami Open with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Rebecca Marino and advanced to the third round where she will face 27th-seeded Anastasia Potapova.

After her victory, Gauff, coming off a quarterfinals appearance at Indian Wells, said in a television interview that it wasn’t her best outing, despite converting five of her nine break points.

“It was a shaky performances honestly,” Gauff said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be a straight forward match, even if I was up a break sometimes.”

Gauff came back from a break down twice in the second set to claim her second career win versus Marino. Gauff defeated Marino in the first round at Roland Garros in 2022.

Gauff said she was a bit nervous playing in her hometown – she’s a native of Delray Beach, Florida, a small city about 40 miles north of Hard Rock Stadium, where the tournament is played. Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat was among those in attendance Thursday.

“Jimmy Butler is here so I was a little bit nervous when I saw him,” Gauff said with a laugh in her post-match interview. “Playing home is something I look forward to, but it’s also a little bit of extra pressure because everyone wants you to do well here.”

Gauff’s doubles teammate, world No. 3 Jessica Pegula beat Katherine Sebov 6-3, 6-1 and advanced to the third round. She will face fellow American and No. 30 Danielle Collins next. Collins defeated Viktoriya Tomova on Thursday.

Pegula made the Miami Open semifinals in 2022 and is among the favorites to win the tournament this year after No. 1-ranked and defending champion Iga Swiatek pulled out of the tournament because of a rib injury.

No. 21 Paula Badosa won 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-2 against Laura Siegemund in a match that lasted two hours and 51 minutes. Badosa will face either Elena Rybakina, who defeated Badosa en route to the Indian Wells title, or Anna Kalinskaya.

Badosa hit with a ball kid during the match to stay warm after Siegemund called for a medical timeout and left the court for treatment, which took nearly 15 minutes.

In other action, Elise Mertens eliminated No. 8 seed Daria Kasatkina 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 to advance and face No. 29 Petra Martic next; No. 23 Qinwen Zheng picked up a 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 win over Irina-Camelia Begu; and No. 13 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia defeated Tereza Martincová 7-6 (4), 0-6, 6-0.

Raducanu, Stephens, Murray lose in first round at Miami Open

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champions Emma Raducanu and Sloane Stephens were knocked out of the Miami Open hours after No. 1-ranked and defending champion Iga Swiatek pulled out of the tournament because of a rib injury.

Bianca Andreescu – the 2019 U.S. Open champ – defeated Raducanu 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. Andreescu improved to 2-0 lifetime against Raducanu, the 2021 winner at Flushing Meadows.

“Miami has a special place in my heart,” Andreescu said. “I’ve been coming here since I was I think 12 years old, whether it’s for vacation or training or, yeah, Orange Bowl. I love that tournament very much. Yeah, coming back here, I think it’s just good vibes overall.”

Andreescu moves on to face 10th-ranked Maria Sakkari, who had a first-round bye.

Shelby Rogers beat Stephens 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. Stephens has six hard-court titles, including the U.S. Open in 2017 and Miami in 2018.

Rogers will face Australian Open champion and world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, who beat Rogers in the second round at Melbourne Park. Sabalenka is coming off a loss in the final at Indian Wells, California, last week.

On the men’s side, Dusan Lajovic beat three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray 6-4, 7-5.

“I served pretty well, but the rest of the game was a bit of a problem today,” the 35-year-old Murray said. “Made a number of errors that obviously I wouldn’t expect to be making. I didn’t really feel like I moved particularly well, which is really important for me.”

Lajovic, a 32-year-old Serbian, will face Maxime Cressy, who had a first-round bye.

Swiatek withdrew because of a rib injury that she is hoping will heal during a break from competition. The 21-year-old from Poland also will sit out her country’s Billie Jean King Cup qualifier matches against Kazakhstan on April 13-14.

“I wanted to wait ’til the last minute” to decide whether to play in Miami, Swiatek said at a news conference at the site of the hard-court tournament that began Tuesday. “We were kind of checking if this is the kind of injury you can still play with or this is kind when you can get things worse. So I think the smart move for me is to pull out of this tournament because I want to rest and take care of it properly.”

In other action, 24-year-old American J.J. Wolf defeated Alexander Bublik 7-5, 6-3. He’ll face No. 7-ranked Andrey Rublev, who had a first-round bye.

Gael Monfils retired from his match against Ugo Humbert due to a persistent wrist injury.