WTA Birmingham: Naomi Osaka battles past Sakkari to progress to the second round 
Osaka all smiles after edging out Sakarri (Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

WTA Birmingham: Naomi Osaka battles past Sakkari to progress to the second round 

World number one Naomi Osaka survived a hard first-round test against world number 33 Maria Sakkari of Greece. 

chris-elliott
Chris Elliott

Naomi Osaka will be hoping to build on the momentum she had on the clay season and transfer that same form to the grass.

Last year Osaka retired in her second round match against Dalila Jakupovic, she will be hoping to better that feat this year. 

Osaka capitalizes early 

The Japanese star struck first blood with a quick break in the 3rd game to love. From that point onwards Osaka was like a steam train full of acceleration going forward. 

Once Osaka broke early on to go 2-1 up, the remaining games took very little time with the number one seed taking everything in her stride, first set finished 6-1 and took less than 30 minutes for Osaka to wrap it up, this quick start was certainly one that was unexpected. Given that Sakkari has shown good form earlier on in the year having good runs in Rabat & Rome, this was very promising for Osaka.

The first set stats also worked in the Japanese favor with 69 percent of first serve points won, compared to Sakkari's 42 percent percentage. 

Osaka hitting a backhand (Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
Osaka hitting a backhand (Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

Sakkari fights back

Determined not to be walked over, Sakkari showed more fighting spirit in the second set refusing to go down, managing to hold her serve games with relative ease. At 2-2, it was a crucial game, Sakkari was hitting deeper returns forcing Osaka to make the errors, an uncharacteristic double fault by Osaka also set up three break point chances for Sakkari. The world number one managed to save one but failed to save the game with Sakkari out-rallying her forcing another backhand error from Osaka into the net, 3-2 Sakkari. 

At 3-2 on Sakkari's serve, it was game which kept yo-yo-ing back and forth and was by far the most enthralling game of the match, with both players playing their best tennis. It finally ended up going Osaka's way with a terrific pickup from Sakkari's attempted drop-shot, back on level terms now at 3-3. 

The next game was all Sakkari, who kept forcing the issue on Osaka and with some deep piercing backhands to Osaka earned the reward and break. The Greek showed true grit to hold serve despite Osaka knocking on the door, the game finished with a perfectly placed down the line backhand. There were no problems on Sakkari's serve and she served out comfortably to take the game to love. Now one set all, Sakkari the sort of player who looks out but can strike a comeback, seemingly out of nowhere. 

Osaka finishes the job 

Despite the shaky last game, with a few missed serves, Osaka managed to battle past the nerves and serve it out to win 6-3. 

It was by no means her best performance but she will be happy to get past the tough Sakkari test who at times did ask questions of the world number one and at one set all looking like it could go either way. 

The first game set the standard of the set from Osaka, with her dictating play and winning the game with a wonderfully crafted crosscourt backhand. From then on, it was all Osaka who grinded her way through. A crucial game was at 3-2 where Sakkari managed to save four break points but it just wasn't enough to stop the world number one. A match that went just over two hours, Osaka will just be happy being back on the grass and winning a tough first-round match which Sakkari gave her. 

Osaka will next face Yulia Putintseva in the second round who has previously beaten her 6-3, 6-3 in Hobart, Australia last year. 

Osaka on going forward 

"For me, I just want to have a high service percentage, first service, because I think on grass it's really important to hold your serve and just try to be a bit more aggressive but controlled.

I think it's really important for me to get a good. I'm only playing this tournament before Wimbledon, so I would love to get a lot of matches in and sort of build my confidence up."
 

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