Naomi Osaka defeats Petra Kvitova in WTA Finals opener

Naomi Osaka defeats Petra Kvitova in WTA Finals opener
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Naomi Osaka hits a forehand in her victory over Petra Kvitova. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Naomi Osaka got her WTA Finals campaign off to a winning start by defeating Petra Kvitova 7-6 4-6 6-4 in an epic battle that lasted two hours, 39 minutes.

It was Osaka’s 11th consecutive victory, equaling the longest streak of her career, and she was made to work hard by Kvitova in a seesawing encounter in Shenzhen, China.

In a repeat of this year’s Australian Open final, when Osaka won the second Grand Slam of her career, the world No. 3 rallied from a break down to win the first set.

She then lost the second set having led by a break, but controlled the final set to record her first WTA Finals victory having lost all three of her matches last year in Singapore.

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“I’m not great at first rounds,” said Osaka after the match. “It takes me a little bit to warm up. I think that this tournament forces you to do well early.”

The WTA Finals pit the top eight seeds in women’s tennis against each other, and this year’s tournament, which is being held in China for the first time, sees a record $4.725 million on offer — more than any other tournament in the history of the sport.

Osaka and Kvitova were competing in a round-robin group that also includes Asheligh Barty and Belinda Bencic, who went head-to-head in Sunday’s second game.

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World No. 1 Barty, who claimed her first grand slam at this year’s French Open, came back from losing the first set to defeat Bencic 5-7 6-1 6-2.

That means Barty and Osaka take early leads in the red group, while Karolina Pliskova, Bianca Andreescu, Simona Halep and defending champion Elina Svitolina make up the purple group, which gets underway on Monday. The two winners and two runners up then proceed to the semifinals.