By Rory Carroll
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Naomi Osaka continued her bid for a second straight U.S. Open title with a business-like 6-3 6-4 win over Magda Linette on Thursday to book her place in the third round.
After struggling with nerves in her gruelling first-round match, Osaka was calm and collected on Louis Armstrong Stadium court, smacking 13 winners and playing stout defence to dispatch Poland’s Linette.
After a one-sided first set, trouble brewed for the world number one when Linette raced out to a 3-0 lead in the second on a sun-soaked court.
But the 21-year-old Japanese kept her composure and battled back, hitting a deft volley on match point to seal the win before an adoring crowd including former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick and former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant.
“Going into this match I was very calm, because I was thinking there is no way my nerves could be worse than they were the day before,” Osaka told reporters.
“For me, I also had that comfortably of knowing I have played Magda before. I’ve never played (first-round opponent Anna) Blinkova before, so there is also that added stress not knowing what she can do.
“For me, that stress was taken away today, because I have played Magda in Australia most recently, which was a hard court.
“So, yeah, I came in pretty confident with my abilities, and I think that showed a little bit.”
Osaka, who took the tennis world by storm when she followed up her breakthrough win at Indian Wells last year with victories at the U.S. and Australian Opens, said she was learning to deal with the pressure that comes with being at the top of the sport.
“I’m not really thinking too much anymore,” she said.
“I used to think about everything. I used to think if I have this amount of points, I can stay No. 1 or I can get into this tournament or whatever.”
“The me right now just wants to play really good tennis. For me, that’s the foundation of getting to the top.”
Next up for Osaka is either qualifier Timea Babos or 15-year-old American wildcard Coco Gauff.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by Ed Osmond)