Around the Tour: Osaka breaks grass drought

FORMER world number one Naomi Osaka cruised to her first win on grass court since the 2019 Birmingham Classic, taking care of Belgian Elise Mertens at the Libema Open. Osaka won 6-2 6-4 at the ‘s-Hertogenbosch event in the Netherlands, needing 69 minutes to knock off the 32nd ranked Belgian.

Holding a wildcard at the Dutch event, Osaka was sensational on serve, producing seven aces and only dropping three points off her first serve to remove any chance Mertens had of unsettling her. Osaka also won 52 per cent of her second serve points and saved the only break point she faced, while capitalising on the only three chances she got against the Belgian.

“I’m kind of taking it as if this is my first year on grass,” Osaka said post-match. “I think even now, this is my first time at this tournament so in some ways I feel like a newbie all over again.

“I’ve been in Europe since April, so this is a lot of commitment for me. I’m really happy that I’m doing this.”

Osaka won her fourth match in six appearances against Mertens and produced 21 winners to her opponent’s nine, turning around her loss to the Belgian on the Indian Wells hardcourt back in March.

“I felt initially on clay, coming back this year, more comfortable than my first day on grass,” Osaka said. “But I’m being told that I’m playing pretty well in practice. I think I just need a lot more days on it and I need to believe in myself a lot more.

“Hopefully if I win a lot more matches during these preparation tournaments then I’ll believe in myself. That’s the key.”

Osaka will take on local wildcard Suzan Lamens in the Round of 16 after the Dutchwoman upset American Bernarda Pera in a come-from-behind win, 4-6 6-2 6-4. Fourth seeded Mertens was the only seed not to advance through to the second round with top ranked Jessica Pegula crushing Aliaksandra Sasnovich, while Ekaterina Alexandrova (third), Yue Yuan (sixth) and Donna Vekic (seventh) all qualified.

Canadian wildcard and Grand Slam winner Bianca Andreescu also moved through to the next stage of the tournament, with Serbian Aleksandra Krunic, Hungarian qualifier Dalma Galfi, American Emina Bektas, Swiss wildcard Celine Naef and Belgian Greet Minnen the other winners.


ATP 250 | s-Hertogenbosch

There was no shortage of Australians featuring in the men’s singles at s-Hertogenbosch with Alexei Popyrin and Aleksandar Vukic both defeating fellow Aussies Rinky Hijikata and Max Purcell respectively, in straight sets. The other two Aussies in action – Jordan Thompson and qualifier Tristan Schoolkate – both lost, going down to North Americans Milos Raonic and Sebastian Korda.

American Mackenzie McDonald and Belgian lucky loser Zizou Bergs spoiled the party for Dutch wildcards Botic Van de Zandschulp and Tim van Rijthoven, though it was better news for local qualifier Gijs Brouwer and top ranked Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor who both won, the latter over Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in three tiebreakers.

WTA 250 | Nottingham

The home fans went home happy in Nottingham as US Open champion Emma Raducanu produced a memorable first-up match in her home country, destroying Japanese qualifier Ena Shibahara, 6-1 6-4 in an hour and 10 minutes. She was joined in the second round by wildcard Francesca Jones, while top seed Ons Jabeur got her grass court season off to a strong start with a 6-2 6-3 win over Maria Camila Osorio Serrano.

Australian Daria Saville upset fourth seed Clara Burel to reach the Round of 16, while fellow Aussie Kimberly Birrell also made it through to the next stage of the tournament. The big upset was Daria Snigur upsetting fellow Ukrainian and second seed Marta Kostyuk to now take on Raducanu in the Round f 16. In the all-British battle, third seed Katie Boulter got the better of Harriet Dart, 6-7 6-4 7-5.

ATP 250 | Stuttgart

It was not a great start to the grass court season for Grand Slam winner Andy Murray, with the former star going down in straight sets to American Marcos Giron in Germany. It was better news for former Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini who got past Russian Roman Safiullin in a hard-fought three-setter that took almost three hours, 7-6 5-7 7-5. He joined fellow Italian Lorenzo Musetti in the second round.

Canadian grass court talent and wildcard Denis Shapovalov also made it through to the next round, and now faces Berrettini in a battle of the former top 10 talents. Australian James Duckworth won his first round match and will play second seed Ben Shelton in the Round of 16. Giron’s win over Murray denied an all-British clash in the next stage, with sixth seed Jack Draper winning in straight sets the day before.

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