Naomi Osaka cruised through the first round of the US Open with a routine win over Marie Bouzkova at Flushing Meadows.
The defending champion entered the tournament following a tumultuous summer that saw her withdraw from the French Open and miss Wimbledon on mental health grounds.
Yet the 23-year-old looked back to her best with a crushing performance in her opening match, saving three break points early in the first set before running away with a 6-4 6-1 win.
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"It feels kind of crazy to play in front of everyone again," Osaka said during her on-court interview immediately after the win.
"Last year when we didn't have a crowd it felt quite lonely for me. The energy here is unmatched.
"I've played a lot of matches on this court, maybe the most in my career and I definitely feel comfortable here."
Osaka won the US Open behind closed doors in 2020 in a tournament that saw her wear masks featuring the names of victims of police violence throughout the tournament in a protest against racial injustice.
And the New York tournament was also the scene of Osaka’s breakthrough win, when she beat Serena Williams to the title in 2018.
But 2021 has been a particularly tough one for Osaka due to ongoing mental health concerns, and the Japanese-Haitian opened up further on her thoughts ahead of this year’s tournament.
"Recently I've been asking myself why do I feel the way I do and I realise one of the reasons is because internally, I think I'm never good enough,” she said on Instagram.
"I've never told myself that I've done a good job but I do know I constantly tell myself that I suck or I could do better. I know in the past some people have called me humble but if I really consider it I think I’m extremely self-deprecating. Every time a new opportunity arises my first thought is ‘wow, why me?’.
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“I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm gonna try to celebrate myself and my accomplishments more, I think we all should," Osaka added.
“Your life is your own and you shouldn't value yourself on other people's standards.
"I know I give my heart to everything I can and if that's not good enough for some, then my apologies, but I can't burden myself with those expectations anymore."
Second seed Aryna Sabalenka, 2017 champion Sloan Stephens, American teenager Coco Gauff, and Grand Slam veterans Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza were also notable winners in the opening round.
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