Osaka rallies to oust Gauff while Barty advances at Cincinnati

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·3 min read
Japan's Naomi Osaka celebrates a victory Wednesday over American Coco Gauff at the WTA Cincinnati Masters
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Japan's Naomi Osaka battled back to take a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over American Coco Gauff on Wednesday and advance into the third round of the WTA Cincinnati Masters.

Top seed Ashleigh Barty moved on as well, bouncing back from a Tokyo Olympic first-round loss to start her pre-US Open campaign with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) win over Britain's Heather Watson.

Four-time Grand Slam winner Osaka is playing her first event since the Games, where she went out in the third round.

Gauff had won the pair's most recent prior match in the third round of the 2020 Australian Open after losing a year earlier at the US Open.

Osaka said the early stage of the match saw her trying various things in her first match outside Tokyo since Roland Garros.

"The first set was an experiment," Osaka said. "I was trying to see what was going on as I've not played that many matches.

"I was just examining here and trying to stay calm, trying to keep a level head."

Osaka said victory "means a lot to me, especially coming off Tokyo. She's not my favorite to play. It's very straining mentally.

"But this is a win I can definitely congratulate myself for."

Before the Olympics, Osaka last played at Roland Garros after announcing she would reserve the right to avoid mandatory post-match media conferences, which she said damaged her mental health.

That vow lasted through a first-round stadium interview before she withdrew, going on to also skip Wimbledon.

The issue flared again this week in her first news conference, with a straightforward query causing her to burst into tears before composing herself and getting through the session.

On Wednesday, she was calm and composed in her responses to reporters.

"I was wondering why was I so affected, I guess, like what made me not want to do media in the first place," Osaka said.

"I'm wondering if I was scared because sometimes I would see headlines of like players losing and then the headline the next day would be like a collapse or they're not that great anymore."

Osaka will next play Jil Teichmann after the Swiss put out American Bernarda Pera 6-1, 6-4.

Barty will next face two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka.

"I feel good. I feel like I'm ready to play," Barty said. "I'm as close to 100% as I'm ever going to get.

"I feel comfortable and ready and excited to be playing here in Cincinnati and knowing that we're moving on to New York, one of the best tournaments and one of the best atmospheres in the world, that brings excitement."

Angelique Kerber defeated Elina Svitolina 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 while former US Open winner Bianca Andreescu of Canada lost to Karolina Muchova 6-4, 6-2 in the second round.

Azarenka defeated Alison Riske 6-2, 7-5 while fellow former Grand Slam champions Petra Kvitova and Jelena Ostapenko both won.

Kvitova stopped Veronika Kudermetova 6-2, 6-4 while Ostapenko advanced 6-7 (2/7), 5-4 when American Jennifer Brady retired.

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