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Osaka gets Australian Open started after smoke fears ease

Osaka gets Australian Open started after smoke fears ease

2020 Australian Open
Venue: Melbourne Park
Dates: Jan 20 to Feb 2

Japan’s Naomi Osaka made a winning start to her title defence at the Australian Open on Monday as the Grand Slam tournament began on schedule after a build-up hit by haze from raging bushfires.

Hazardous smog left several players with coughs and breathing difficulties during qualifying last week, prompting speculation about whether the tennis season’s first Major would be delayed.

But a full roster of matches began on time under cloudy skies at Melbourne Park, with air quality rated as ‘good’ and rain forecast.

Osaka was an early winner as she dismissed Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-4 in 80 minutes, breaking a net fitting with one powerful serve in the process.

“It was really tough for me trying to control my nerves,” said Osaka. “It’s tough to play someone you’ve never played before in the first round of a Grand Slam.”

Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic will open his bid for an eighth title on Monday, while Serena Williams launches her latest attempt to match Margaret Court’s record 24 Grand Slam crowns.

Serena’s elder sister, 39-year-old Venus, faces rising star Coco Gauff, 15, who is looking to reprise her upset of the seven-time Grand Slam winner at Wimbledon last year.

Swiss great Roger Federer, 38, plays America’s Steve Johnson as he looks to keep ahead of his Big Three rivals by winning his 21st Grand Slam title.

Player anger over smog dominated the final days before the tournament, which is taking place after deadly bushfires ravaged large parts of the country.

Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic was forced to retire from her qualifier after a coughing fit, while Britain’s Liam Broady claimed “multiple” players needed asthma medication.

- Source: News websites