Japan’s Naomi Osaka battled back to take a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over American Coco Gauff on Wednesday and advance into the third round of the WTA Cincinnati Masters.

Top seed Ashleigh Barty moved on as well, bouncing back from a Tokyo Olympic first-round loss to start her pre-US Open campaign with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) win over Britain’s Heather Watson.

Angelique Kerber defeated Elina Svitolina 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 while former US Open winner Bianca Andreescu of Canada lost to Karolina Muchova 6-4, 6-2 in the second round.

Azarenka defeated Alison Riske 6-2, 7-5 while fellow former Grand Slam champions Petra Kvitova and Jelena Ostapenko both won. Kvitova stopped Veronika Kudermetova 6-2, 6-4 while Ostapenko advanced 6-7 (2/7), 5-4 when American Jennifer Brady retired.

Third seed Aryna Sabalenka and sixth seed Iga Swiatek were also knocked out in the second round, losing to Paula Badosa and Ons Jabeur.

Earlier, Simona Halep withdrew from her second-round match due to a right thigh injury she suffered at the US Open hardcourt tuneup event. The fifth seed from Romania was to have faced American Jessica Pegula but pulled out after hurting herself in the previous round in a victory over Poland’s Magda Linette.

Halep is just back on court after another injury in Rome last May that kept her from Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Olympics.

Four-time Grand Slam winner Osaka is playing her first event since the Games, where she went out in the third round. Gauff had won the pair’s most recent prior match in the third round of the 2020 Australian Open after losing a year earlier at the US Open.

Osaka said the early stage of the match saw her trying various things in her first match outside Tokyo since Roland Garros.

“The first set was an experiment,” Osaka said. “I was trying to see what was going on as I’ve not played that many matches. I was just examining here and trying to stay calm, trying to keep a level head.”

Osaka said victory “means a lot to me, especially coming off Tokyo. She’s not my favorite to play. It’s very straining mentally. But this is a win I can definitely congratulate myself for.”

Before the Olympics, Osaka last played at Roland Garros after announcing she would reserve the right to avoid mandatory post-match media conferences, which she said damaged her mental health. That vow lasted through a first-round stadium interview before she withdrew, going on to also skip Wimbledon. The issue flared again this week in her first news conference, with a straightforward query causing her to burst into tears before composing herself and getting through the session.

On Wednesday, she was calm and composed in her responses to reporters.

“I was wondering why was I so affected, I guess, like what made me not want to do media in the first place,” Osaka said.

“I’m wondering if I was scared because sometimes I would see headlines of like players losing and then the headline the next day would be like a collapse or they’re not that great anymore.”

Osaka will next play Jil Teichmann after the Swiss put out American Bernarda Pera 6-1, 6-4.

Barty will next face two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka.

“I feel good. I feel like I’m ready to play,” Barty said. “I’m as close to 100% as I’m ever going to get.

“I feel comfortable and ready and excited to be playing here in Cincinnati and knowing that we’re moving on to New York, one of the best tournaments and one of the best atmospheres in the world, that brings excitement.”


Second round

Ashleigh Barty (AUS x1) bt Heather Watson (GBR) 6-4, 7-6 (7/3)

Victoria Azarenka (BLR x14) bt Alison Riske (USA) 6-2, 7-5

Barbora Krejcíková (CZE x9) bt Dayana Yastremska (UKR) 6-1, 7-6 (7/5)

Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP x8) bt Caroline Garcia (FRA) 6-4, 6-3

Angelique Kerber (GER) bt Elina Svitolina (UKR x4) 7-5, 2-6, 6-4

Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) bt Jennifer Brady (USA x13) 6-7 (2/7), 5-4, retired

Petra Kvitova (CZE x11) bt Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) 6-2, 6-4

Ons Jabeur (TUN) bt Iga Swiatek (POL x6) 6-3, 6-3

Karolína Plíšková (CZE x5) bt Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) 6-3, 6-2

Jessica Pegula (USA) bt Simona Halep (ROM x12) walkover

Elena Rybakina (KAZ) bt Elise Mertens (BEL x15) 6-3, 6-2

Paula Badosa (ESP) bt Aryna Sabalenka (BLR x3) 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (7/4)

Karolína Muchová (CZE) bt Bianca Andreescu (CAN x7) 6-4, 6-2

Belinda Bencic (SUI x10) bt Shelby Rogers (USA) 7-6 (7/1), 6-1

Jil Teichmann (SUI) bt Bernarda Pera (USA) 6-1, 6-4

Naomi Osaka (JPN x2) bt CoCo Gauff (USA) 4-6, 6-3, 6-4

With AFP Inputs