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Osaka makes net-busting start to Australian Open title defence

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Melbourne (AFP)

Naomi Osaka began her Australian Open title defence in emphatic fashion, breaking the net with a serve as she dismantled unseeded Czech Marie Bouzkova on Monday.

The 22-year-old Japanese, the world's second highest-paid female athlete after Serena Williams, powered through 6-2, 6-4 in 80 minutes.

The two-time Grand Slam champion, one of the prime threats to Williams's bid to win a record-equalling 24th Major, plays China's Zheng Saisai in round two.

Osaka, the third seed, saw her victory march held up for a few minutes early in the second set after a blockbuster serve broke a fitting in the net at the 15,000-capacity Rod Laver Arena.

"It was really tough for me trying to control my nerves," said Osaka. "It's tough to play someone you've never played before in the first round of a Grand Slam.

"I hope I'm still standing here at the end of this week."

The first Grand Slam of the year went ahead as scheduled on Monday after air pollution eased in Melbourne.

Last week's build-up to the Australian Open was plagued by choking haze from widespread bushfires, forcing organisers to temporarily delay qualifying matches.

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