The 37th edition of the Toray Pan Pacific is underway in Tokyo this week, where Paula Badosa and Caroline Garcia are the top seeds, and where, at the Ariake Coliseum and Ariake Tennis Forest Park, Elise Mertens and Petra Martin cruised into round 2 in Tokyo on Monday.
It feels really weird to hear that I’m the defending champion because it was the last time I played in 2019. I would love to win it again, but I think just taking it one match at a time… and also just playing in front of a crowd in Tokyo again, because the Olympics was crowd-less, so it will just be nice to see people. Naomi Osaka
The WTA 500 event is being held for the first time since Japan’s Naomi Osaka won the title here in 2019, as the tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
Mertens, from Belgium, eased past China’s Wang Qiang, 6-0 6-3, while Croatia’s Martic swept past local qualifier Rina Saigo, 6-1 6-1.
After Mertens won the first 3 games, Typhoon Nanmadol forced the match to be halted as Wang was serving and the rain started, forcing play to be suspended for 45 minutes while the roof at Ariake Coliseum was closed.
The 30-year-old Chinese managed to get to 3-3 in the second set, but Mertens then won the last 3 games of the 1st-round match to advance to take on America’s Claire Liu, who beat her compatriot, 7th-seeded Alison Riske-Amritraj, 6-2 6-3, scoring her second win against a top 30 player after her win over Beatriz Haddad Maia last August.
Liu also took a 3-0 lead in her match, winning 88% of her first serves in the opening set and, after the two Americans exchanged breaks to start the second, she won 3 straight games for a 5-1 lead.
Martic cruised past Saigo, ranked 635, who had been a qualifying wild-card and playing the first WTA main draw of her career, with 5 breaks in just 69 minutes.
Nineteen-year-old Zheng Qinwen from China delivered an impressively dominant performance to beat Japan’s home hope Misaki Doi, 6-2 6-4, in 1 hour and 20 minutes, building up a 4-0 lead and holding her next service game to claim the first set.
In her most imperious passage of play, the 19-year-old reeled off 19 consecutive points, the last 3 of the opener, and the first 16 of the second set, to build a 4-0 lead.
No 107-ranked Doi battled hard to make the climax of the match more competitive, garnering one of the breaks back, but Zheng served out the win at the second time of asking to set up a 2nd-round encounter with No 1 seed Badosa from Spain, who received a 1st-round bye.
Zheng won 78% of her first-serve points to Doi’s 53%, and she saved 3 of the 4 break points she faced while converting 4 of the 7 break points that came her way on the latter’s serve.
Another Chinese, Wang Xinyu, came back from a break down in both the first and third sets to outlast Ellen Perez, a qualifier from Australia, 7-5 1-6 6-4, after 2 hours and 4 minutes.
It was Monday’s only 3-setter, and just the 20-year-old’s second win in 9 matches since she was forced to withdraw from Wimbledon due to a thigh injury.
Despite Perez managing to take a 3-0 lead and winning the first set against Wang, she narrowly lost the match.
The final contest of Day 1 saw Greece’s Despina Papamichail triumph over China’s You Xiaodi, 6-4 6-2, in a clash between two qualifiers.
29-year old Papamichail scored the first WTA main-draw victory of her career in Budapest this July, and this marked her first win at WTA 500 level.
Papamichail needed an hour and 55 minutes to claim the win for herself, and next up for her will be 3rd seed Garbiñe Muguruza after the Spaniard also received a first-round bye.
Osaka, the defending champion, has a tough draw, facing Aussie Daria Saville in her opener on Tuesday.
She became the first Japanese player to win the title here in 24 years, but life was quite different back then, when she was ranked No 4 in the world, and had won the Australian Open at the start of the year.
The 4-time Grand Slam winner now finds herself at 48 in the WTA Rankings, and has not won a title since the 2021 Australian Open.
“It feels really weird to hear that I’m the defending champion because it was the last time I played in 2019,” she said. “I would love to win it again, but I think just taking it one match at a time… and also just playing in front of a crowd in Tokyo again, because the Olympics was crowd-less, so it will just be nice to see people.”
The former World No 1 is 2-8 in her last 10 matches, with her last win coming at the Silicon Valley Classic in July.
The last time she won back-to-back matches was at the Miami Open in April where she finished runner-up to current World No 1 Iga Swiatek.
Osaka is unseeded here this year, and she will hope to get past Saville on Tuesday, with the winner moving on to face either 5th seed Haddad Maia from Brazil or local wild-card Yuki Naito in the 2nd-round.
Haddad Maia won the Nottingham Open and Birmingham Classic in June and also finished runner-up to Simona Halep at the Canadian Open in August.
4th seed Veronika Kudermetova is the projected quarter-final opponent while Badosa is the likely semi-final hurdle.
Garcia, fresh from a run to the semi-final at the US Open, headlines the bottom half of the draw, and the 2nd seed faces China’s Zhang Shuai or Mai Hontama from Japan in her opener round 2 with Czech Karolina Pliskova, the 6th seed, also in the section.
Muguruza, a two-time Grand Slam winner and former World No 1, is also in this half, along with Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina, the 8th seed from Kazakstan, who returned to form at the Slovenia Open on Sunday where she finished runner-up to Czech Katerina Siniakova.