Karolina Pliskova flexes muscles with win over Naomi Osaka

Returning star Naomi Osaka showed glimpses of her best but was knocked out of the Brisbane International in a big-serving clash by a fellow former world No.1 mounting her own comeback.

Former US Open and Wimbledon finalist Karolina Pliskova blasted past Osaka after a slow start to win 3-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 and advance to the round of 16 after playing her first competitive match since September due to a wrist injury.

The victory keeps the Czech star’s hopes of a Brisbane International three-peat alive after she won the previous two editions of the tournament in 2019 and 2020.

Osaka only gave up four unforced errors in a clinical first-set performance on Wednesday before Pliskova upped the ante on her serve, winning 24 of 26 points on her first serve to force a tie-break, which she won before breaking Osaka early in the final set.

Pliskova, 31, gave an unusually passionate celebration after claiming the second-set tie-break before she continued to serve out the game with all of her trademark power and aggression.

The 2023 Australian Open quarter-finalist said after the match she had lost focus at times on her serve but her body felt good as she built towards another deep run at Melbourne Park.

“You can practise as much as you want, but matches are always just a little bit different,” Pliskova said.

“(It was a) long break (since September), but of course I’ve done this sport for many, many years. I did some good training for a couple of months, so I think I’m in good shape.”

Playing at her first tournament since a 15-month hiatus after giving birth to daughter Shai in July last year, Osaka told fans after her first-round clash that her priorities in tennis had shifted.

The 2019 and 2021 Australian Open winner said she was “super nervous and excited” to be back playing but wanted to focus on enjoyment in her comeback.

“I feel like the last couple of years that I played before I had my daughter, I didn’t return as much love as I was given,” she said.

“I really feel like that’s what I want to do in this chapter. I just really appreciate people coming out, people knowing me and cheering for me because I feel like there was a time when I was just a little kid trying to watch my role models play.

“It feels really surreal sometimes to be playing on these courts.”

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