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TOKYO – Women’s tennis has become a sport where, any time the draw of a big tournament comes out, danger lurks in all kinds of unexpected places. The depth, parity and stylistic variety of the field these days is such that higher seeded players typically have to be on upset alert at least once in the early rounds.
When the draw came out for women’s singles at the Tokyo Games, however, it was hard to envision a friendlier path for No. 2 seed Naomi Osaka. With some uncertainty about what kind of form she’d be in, having only played 10 matches total since her win in the Australian Open, there did not appear to be a player in her section of the draw that could pose any real matchup problems.
So far, that assumption has proven correct. After gliding through her first round match against Zheng Saisai on Sunday, Osaka returned one day later and easily took care of Switzerland’s Viktorija Golubic, 6-3, 6-2.
“I think my movement was better and I was more clear with what I wanted to do,” Osaka said of the difference between her second match and her first.
Realistically, though, there was little chance of Osaka stumbling on Monday.
It’s not just that Golubic, a women’s tour veteran ranked No. 49 in the world, has only been past the third round of a Grand Slam once in her career at Wimbledon last month while Osaka is a four-time major winner at age 23. It’s that Golubic simply did not have the weaponry to put much pressure on Osaka, who was able to comfortably go on offense nearly every point.
Though they exchanged holds of serve for the first seven games of the match, Osaka finally took command with a break at 4-3, punishing a series of Golubic first serves that topped out around 82 miles per hour. Able to do pretty much whatever she wanted with those softballs, Osaka kept Golubic pinned behind the baseline and teed off on her forehand, producing winner after winner. The result was a fairly non-competitive second set, with Osaka breaking twice take a 4-0 lead and cruising to the finish line.
Of course, perhaps it’s not as easy as Osaka is making it look so far. Whatever terminology you want to use – focused, locked in – she’s striking the ball with power and precision, which is no easy task for someone who hasn’t played since withdrawing from the French Open on May 31, saying she needed to take a break for her mental health.
“I guess for me I just have put this pressure on myself to do well because I know that I don’t play that many tournaments,” she said. “I feel like I’ve watched these players playing the tournaments while I was on my break and I just really, really want to do well.”
The Olympic tournament is suddenly setting up well for Osaka, playing in her home country as the face of these games. Her third-round opponent – Marketa Vondrousova – is a fairly straightforward player without much offense to her game and ranked outside the top 40. Two of the three seeded players in her quarter of the draw are already out.
And with No. 1 Ash Barty out of the event, having been upset in the first round by one of those dangerous unseeded players in Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo, she is looking very much the part of gold medal favorite.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tokyo Games: Naomi Osaka looking formidable after winning second match