Naomi Osaka’s preparations for the US Open suffered another setback when the former world number one was swept aside by China’s Zhang Shuai 6-4, 7-5 in the first round of the Cincinnati Open on Tuesday.
It was only her third tournament after an Achilles injury and it was a stuttering return to action for the two-time US Open champion, who was also eliminated in the opening round in Toronto last week and retired with lower back pain.
For Zhang, a doubles winner in Cincinnati last year, it was her first singles win at the event since 2014.
“Naomi, she’s amazing, but I don’t know if maybe she’s not feeling really good today,” Zhang said. “But today for sure – today not her best.”
The first game on center court, Japan’s Osaka got off to a slow start as a double fault gave Zhang a break on her opening serve.
That was all Zhang needed as she won the first set with the 33-year-old Chinese and quickly gained the upper hand in the second with an early break to take a 2-1 lead as Osaka continued to fall.
After Zhang served for the match at a score of 5-4, Osaka eventually secured an elusive break to level the set, only for her opponent to immediately hit back and regain control.
Zhang, who served a second time for the match, didn’t miss the opportunity again and claimed the win with an ace.
Osaka got her serve to work when she fired 10 aces, but not much else. The four-time Grand Slam winner accumulated 29 unforced errors and converted just one of four break chances.
Next, Zhang meets Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova, who beat 13th-seeded Canada’s Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 7-5 and lost the finalist at last year’s US Open.
This year’s Major at Flushing Meadows begins on August 29th.