Brisbane | Osaka and Bertens survive
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Naomi Osaka bounced back after losing the first set to overcome Sofia Kenin’s challenge and reach the quarter-finals to play Kiki Bertens at the Brisbane International for the second year in a row on Thursday.
I heard a lot of people cheering for me, so I wanted to go down fighting. It's really weird. In Australia, everyone is really nice to me... Ever since I was young, people would watch my matches and everyone's super nice. Naomi Osaka
The No 3 seed produced a masterclass towards the end of the 2 hour 21 minutes match of excellent tennis, finally winning through, 6-7(3) 6-3 6-1.
Osaka is competing in her first tournament since she announced Belgian Wim Fissette as her new coach in December.
She made a semi-final exit at the Brisbane International last year before winning her second Grand Slam at the Australian Open.
The Japanese No 1 sent down a career-high 18 aces and struck 42 winners en route to posting her second win over the American, an opponent she first met and lost to exactly five years ago, when she was a 17-year-old ranked World No 412 and Kenin was an unranked 16-year-old.
The win extends Osaka’s winning streak to 13 after her titles in Osaka and Beijing, and one win at the WTA Finals Shenzhen before her withdrawal with a shoulder injury, to close out 2019, the longest run of victories in her career so far.
“I heard a lot of people cheering for me, so I wanted to go down fighting,” Osaka said.
“It’s really weird. In Australia, everyone is really nice to me… Ever since I was young, people would watch my matches and everyone’s super nice.”
The 21-year-old Kenin put in a superb demonstration of her fighting spirit, trailing all the way in the first set until the very last minute, needing to save 4 set points at 4-5 before reeling off 6 straight points to come from behind and steal the tiebreak.
There were no breaks of serve in the opening act, which was characterised by two peaks of intensity bookending a series of dominant service holds, particularly from Osaka’s end, with the 22-year-old hammering down 10 aces and winning 77% of her first serve points.
Both players survived break points in consecutive high-quality mini-tussles early on, Osaka saving one with an ace in the 3rd game and Kenin responding by fending off 2 before holding with a backhand winner down the line.
The next dramatic juncture came as the World No 14 served to stay in the set at 4-5 when Osaka, ratcheting up the pressure on her returns, carved out 4 set points but was unable to get over the line, committing an error on each one, until Kenin sealed this battle with a forehand winner after 5 deuces.
The American then turned the ensuing tiebreak around from 1-3 down with another hard backhand return down the line into the corner, forcing a short reply from Osaka and an easy put-away.
Thereafter, the tiebreak was all about Kenin as Osaka lost control of her forehand.
The run of 12 straight service holds was abruptly ended as the second set got under way with 3 consecutive breaks.
Osaka took her frustration at letting the first set slip from her grasp out on the ball, pounding breathtaking winners from both wings to capture the Kenin serve twice for a 2-1 lead.
The former World No 1 held on, dominating on serve despite her first serve percentage sinking to 36% and the Kenin backhand return continuing to be a thorn in her side.
She still managed to win 83% of the points behind her first delivery, often bailing herself out of potential trouble.
Testing Kenin’s mettle, Osaka upped the ante on her own returns, and conjured up 3 set points that came and went.
The Japanese grew more frustrated as Kenin continued to elude her, but on her 4th, she finally landed a backhand blow that was too much for her opponent , and levelled the match.
The deciding set unleashed Osaka, who now deployed both her serve and groundstrokes with relentless consistency to garner another break of the Kenin serve for 2-0, sealed when she put away a forehand winner off an American drop-shot.
With her first serve percentage bouncing back up to 71%, Osaka never looked like surrendering her lead and did not face a break point in the decider, conceding just 7 points on serve in total.
Sealing an insurance break for 5-1, Kenin’s error count crept up as Osaka closed the match out majestically, dismissing one last backhand return winner from the American to end the contest with consecutive aces.
Up next for Osaka in the quarter-finals will be the No 6 seed Kiki Bertens, winner of the late night final second-round clash with Anett Kontaveit from Estonia.
The Dutchwoman dropped the opening set in the tiebreak but convincingly fought back to dominate the next two sets and the match, 6-7(3) 6-3 6-1, after 2 hours of play.