Osaka, Halep, Venus win openers in Beijing

Published by Matt Trollope

Naomi Osaka serves during her opening-round win over Jessica Pegula at the China Open in Beijing (Getty Images)
Five Grand Slam champions advanced to the second round of the China Open as part of an action-packed schedule on Sunday in Beijing.

Naomi Osaka on Sunday led five Grand Slam champions through to the second round of the China Open in Beijing.

The Japanese star kicked off the day’s play on Diamond Court and ultimately subdued American Jessica Pegula in a scratchy performance which she said was dominated by nerves.

Joining her in the second round were Venus Williams and Simona Halep — who won in vastly contrasting styles — and fellow Grand Slam champions Angelique Kerber and Sloane Stephens, who progressed on Sunday evening.

NEWS: Sabalenka goes back-to-back in Wuhan

Osaka, the world No.4 and recent Pan Pacific Open champion, eventually handled Pegula 6-3 7-6(5) to set up a meeting with former top-10 player Andrea Petkovic.

“The first match is always the worst for me,” Osaka admitted. “But I was kind of expecting it to be better because I just kind of played really well in (Japan). I thought it would carry on. I was a little bit frustrated that I felt my game wasn’t really where I left it.

“I felt very stressed today. Again, I think it’s because I just came off Toray. Everyone’s telling me about, like, You can qualify (for the WTA Finals) in Shenzhen. That’s on my mind, too. I also didn’t want to lose in the first round.

“I was very nervous today. She kind of played much better in the second set. That was something that I had to get used to.”

There were fewer problems for Halep, who breezed to a 6-1 6-1 win over Rebecca Peterson of Sweden.

Incredibly, Halep is still dealing with the back injury that forced her to retire during her third-round match in Wuhan last week.

“It is risky, but it is not that dangerous. That’s why I decided to go on court and to play,” Halep said of her physical troubles. “I accepted it. I took the risk.

“I’m not 100 per cent recovered. I still feel pain. It’s, like, getting blocked after a while.

“But today I was very relaxed. I didn’t force, I can say. I knew how I have to play against her. I think I played smart. I played what she doesn’t like. That’s why I was able to win.”

Halep next plays Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Williams also looked on track for a similarly comfortable victory when she earned a break point for a 6-3 5-2 lead over Czech veteran Barbora Strycova.

Yet she found herself immersed in a torrid battle on Diamond Court, at one stage trailing 3-5 in the third set.

The five-time Wimbledon champion eventually imposed herself once again on the match, reeling off the final four games to escape with a 6-3 4-6 7-5 win.

“She’s a great competitor. I was just so super happy to win that at the end, stay in the tournament,” said the 39-year-old Williams, who takes on No.9 seed Belinda Bencic in the second round.

“Honestly the strategy is changing throughout the match just to see what works. My strategy is always basically to dominate. Basically whoever does that usually wins.”

Stephens got past Magda Linette in straight sets in a twilight match on the tournament’s secondary Lotus Court while Kerber fought back from a break down in the third set to stop Chinese star Zhang Shuai 6-2 1-6 6-4.

Also progressing to the second round were No.3 seed Elina Svitolina, who upended last year’s Beijing finalist Anastasija Sevastova, and Dayana Yastremska, who belted 2017 China Open champion Caroline Garcia 6-1 6-1 in under an hour.

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