Naomi Osaka reacts after winning a point against Marie Bouzkova in the first round of the U.S. Open Monday night at New York. Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

NEW YORK — Naomi Osaka is back in Grand Slam action after a mental health break. Back to playing quite well, too.

After a tight start to her first-round U.S. Open match Monday night, the reigning champion grabbed eight of the last nine games and put together a 6-4, 6-1 victory over 87th-ranked Marie Bouzkova.

Helped by a serve that reached 120 mph, Osaka saved all eight break points she faced and accumulated a 34-10 edge in total winners. She hadn’t played at one of her sport’s four major tournaments since May 30 at the French Open.

That day, Osaka skipped her mandatory news conference after her first-round victory in Paris, drawing a $15,000 fine and a warning from the heads of the Slams that she could face a suspension. She responded by pulling out of Roland Garros, explaining that she feels anxiety when speaking to the media and has dealt with depression for years. Osaka then sat out Wimbledon, too.

A year ago, when she won the title at Flushing Meadows for the second time, there weren’t any spectators allowed, because of the coronavirus pandemic. But they returned Monday in full force, and Osaka heard plenty of support from the thousands in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It feels kind of crazy to play in front of everyone again. I just want to say thank you for coming out here. Last year, when we didn’t have a crowd, I know it felt quite lonely for me,” she said with a smile during her on-court interview. “I’m glad to see little kids in the audience – and, of course, grown-ups, too.”


While dropping Bouzkova’s career mark in major matches to 1-11, Osaka improved her own to 55-14, including 22-3 at the U.S. Open as she tries to become the first woman with consecutive trophies in New York since Serena Williams collected her third in a row in 2014.

Osaka beat Williams in the chaotic 2018 final in Ashe. She also has won hard-court major titles at the Australian Open in 2019 and this February.

“I’ve played a lot of matches on this court,” Osaka told the Ashe fans. “Definitely, I feel really comfortable here.”

Used to be home, actually. She was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, and when Osaka was 3, the family moved to Queens. They lived there until she was 8, when they went to Florida.

Last week, Osaka went to her old neighborhood to check out tennis courts there that she paid to have refurbished.

“It definitely meant a lot to me … just to revisit my old courts and see familiar faces,” she said.


Her match against Bouzkova originally was scheduled to begin around 7:30 p.m., but didn’t get going until after 9 p.m., on account of the preceding match between Andy Murray and Stefanos Tsitsipas lasting nearly five hours.

When that men’s matchup ended, thousands of fans with night-session tickets needed to wait to get into Ashe while those holding day session seats were cleared out and the arena was cleaned.

As play began, Osaka was a tad tentative, allowing Bouzkova to keep things close for a while. But from 4-all in the first set, everything began to go Osaka’s way.

She had fewer break chances overall – just six – but managed to convert half of them, and her serve and quick-strike forehand did the rest.
Next up for Osaka is a match against 145th-ranked Olga Danilovic.


Andy Murray reacts after losing a point to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the first round Monday. Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Murray is aware that Tsitsipas has a growing reputation for pushing the boundaries when it comes to taking breaks during a match. Murray expected that to be an issue during their first-round match at the U.S. Open – and, when it was, that didn’t sit well. Not at all.


Murray figures there was enough for him to deal with in the high heat and humidity: He’s 34. He’s got an artificial hip. He’s ranked 112th after a series of health issues. At one point, he tumbled to the ground, losing his balance in sweat-soaked shoes and leaving splotches on the blue court from his soggy clothing.

So as the contest stretched to almost five hours, Murray did not appreciate that Tsitsipas took a medical timeout after the third set and made a lengthy visit to the locker room after the fourth. Following an entertaining, back-and-forth 2-6, 7-6 (7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 loss to Tsitsipas, Murray complained about what he considered unfair gamesmanship by the French Open runner-up and announced: “I lost respect for him.”

“It’s nonsense. And he knows it, as well,” said Murray, who is nearly a decade – and a pair of hip operations – removed from a U.S. Open championship.

Told of Murray’s displeasure, the just-turned-23 Tsitsipas said: “If there’s something that he has to tell me, we should speak, the two of us, to kind of understand what went wrong. I don’t think I broke any rules.”

The whole thing lent some intrigue to the proceedings as the year’s last Grand Slam tournament got underway with fans in the stands at full capacity – the combined attendance for the day and night sessions was 53,783 – a year after all spectators were banned because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With exits for Murray and 2014 champion Marin Cilic, who stopped playing because of an injury in the fifth set against Philipp Kohlschreiber, the only man left in the draw after Day One with even one Grand Slam title is No. 1 Novak Djokovic.


He will debut Tuesday night as he tries to break a tie for the men’s mark of 20 majors with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to complete a calendar-year Grand Slam.

Sloane Stephens returns a shot to Madison Keys during their first round match at the U.S. Open on Monday, in New York, Stephens won in three sets. Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Earlier Monday, there were victories for 2017 champion Sloane Stephens, who edged Madison Keys 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (7) in a rematch of their final four years ago; multiple Grand Slam title winners and former No. 1s Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza; 2020 runner-up Victoria Azarenka and 17-year-old American Coco Gauff.

“I just remember, like, last year, not necessarily being bored, but it was just so quiet for the U.S. Open,” the 21st-seeded Gauff said after advancing to face Stephens with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 comeback against Magda Linette. “I definitely missed the buzz.”

Some spectators griped about delays getting in, which the U.S. Tennis Association said were largely caused by the time it took to inspect bags at the entry gates.
The USTA added that checking for proof of vaccination required to attend the event this year went smoothly and did not contribute in a significant way to long lines.

Those lucky enough to be in Ashe rose and roared in unison when Murray smacked a forehand winner to claim the third set. He raised his right hand overhead and leaned forward as he shouted, “I’m not … done! Let’s go!”

But it was Tsitsipas who wasn’t finished. He got treatment from a trainer on his left foot after that set, then headed off court again a set later for several minutes.


After he got broken right away and fell behind 2-0 in the fifth, Murray offered this observation on court: “It’s never taken me that long to go to the toilet. Ever.”

Murray explained later he thought the interruptions played a role.

“It’s just disappointing, because I feel it influenced the outcome of the match. I’m not saying I necessarily win that match, for sure, but it had influence on what was happening after those breaks,” he said. “You could argue that I shouldn’t let that affect me. But genuinely it is difficult, like, when you’re playing such a brutal match in those conditions to have those breaks. Physically you can’t stop that from affecting you. Mentally, yes, but physically you can’t.”

The humidity at 70% and the temperature in the low-80s required a bit more than Murray could give. He is a former No. 1 who won Wimbledon twice in addition to his 2012 title in New York, but his body has not held up.

Given his age and health history, it was remarkable Murray was out there at all, let alone coming close to becoming, at No. 112 this week, the lowest-ranked man to upset an opponent in the top three at the U.S. Open since the computerized ATP rankings began in 1973.

After a third-round exit at Wimbledon early last month, Murray sounded rather glum about his future, frustrated that that he couldn’t practice as much as he’d like to be properly competitive. On Saturday, Murray opined that taking on Tsitsipas would be “a good, good test for me to see kind of where my game’s at.”
He seemed to pass that test. He much rather would have won.


WITHDRAWN: Australian Open runner-up Jennifer Brady, has withdrawn from the U.S. Open because of an injury.

Brady, a semifinalist last year in Flushing Meadows, has not played competitively since being forced to retire from her second-round match against Jelena Ostapenko in Cincinnati. The U.S. Tennis Association did not specify her injury.

Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, also pulled out Monday for medical reasons.

On the men’s side, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also withdrew. The 2008 Australian Open finalist has a right leg injury.

THE U.S. OPEN REFEREE Soeren Friemel, who is also the head of officiating for the International Tennis Federation, notified tournament officials Sunday that he “needed to leave for personal reasons,” according to U.S. Tennis Association spokesman Chris Widmaier.

The timing of Friemel’s departure, as the final stages of qualifying matches were contested, is highly unusual. Widmaier said he had no other information about the circumstances. According to Widmaier, Friemel has been replaced by Australia’s Wayne McKewen, a veteran tournament referee.


An email to Friemel was not returned.

Friemel was hailed by the USTA as “one of the world’s top tennis officials” when his appointment as the U.S. Open’s tournament referee was announced in March 2019. Friemel replaced Brian Earley, who had served in the role for 26 years before retiring. Friemel was well known to the USTA at the time, having served as the U.S. Open’s chief umpire from 2016 to 2018. He is also widely known in international tennis circles; he was appointed head of officiating for the London-based ITF in 2014.

As the U.S. Open’s tournament referee, Friemel’s role was to ensure that the tournament was conducted according to the sport’s rules, regulations and procedures. The tournament referee also serves as the final authority on all officiating matters and approves and oversees the assignment and evaluation of chair umpires.

In 2020, when the U.S. Open was held without spectators, Friemel presided over the disqualification of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic for inadvertently striking a linesperson with a ball. Friemel received generally favorable marks for applying the rulebook correctly and without favor in a difficult, high-stakes situation, with Djokovic pursuing an 18th Grand Slam title.

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