Naomi Osaka outlasted Kiki Bertens, 6-3 3-6 6-3, to claim her spot in the Brisbane International semi-finals for the second straight year, where she will meet Karolina Pliskova, the World No 2.
I know I’m playing, like, the best players in the world here and every round for me is really hard, so I’m just thinking about the things I can control during the match. My automatic reaction is just to, like, tell myself I’m doing bad and I need to do better, but most of the time I think I need to realise that the better players that I play, they will also figure things out. Naomi Osaka
In a battle between two top 10 players, Osaka and Bertens had split their two previous contested meetings, but Friday’s encounter was the first to go the full distance.
Scoring the decisive service breaks late in the 1st and 3rd sets, it was the Japanese who prevailed in a shade under 2 hours to claim her spot in the final four.
“I think I started off really well today, as opposed to yesterday,” Osaka told the media later.
“I feel like we were both feeling each other out, though, and [Bertens] sort of adjusted better to me in the second set.”
“In the third set, I just decided to stop complaining and try to fight for every point.”
Osaka, who is ranked No 4 and is the 3rd seed in Brisbane, fired 12 aces and won 85% of her first service points against the Dutchwoman.
After splitting the match a set piece and saving 4 break points at the start of the decider, Osaka held her nerve by breaking once on route to victory.
It is the third consecutive match where the Japanese player has been pushed to three sets.
Earlier in the week she also produced hard fought wins over Maria Sakkari and Sofia Kenin, but remains on a 14-match streak and has not lost since the US Open. At the WTA Finals she won one match before withdrawing.
“I know I’m playing, like, the best players in the world here, and every round for me is really hard, so I’m just thinking about the things I can control during the match,” she explained.
“My automatic reaction is just to, like, tell myself I’m doing bad and I need to do better, but most of the time I think I need to realise that the better players that I play, they will also figure things out.”
The win means Osaka will rise to third in the world rankings on Monday when they are updated, overtaking rival Simona Halep.
She will be hoping to continue her winning run into the Australian Open, where she is defending her title from 12 months ago.
“I tried to defend in my US Open title and that didn’t work out so well, so I hope it’s better for me this time around,” Osaka said.
Over the first 5 games, the two players dropped a combined 5 points on serve, but a trio of contentious games at the end of the set defined the opener.
Osaka was the first to break serve in the 6th game, but it was a three-deuce battle in the 8th game that ultimately proved decisive when the Japanese earned herself a trio of break points in each of these games, and denied Bertens an opportunity to level the opener at 4-4 before ultimately wrapping up the set.
Nevertheless, it was the Dutchwoman who came up with the lone break of the middle set, as she eventually converted a 3rd break point in the game to move ahead at 3-1, and never faced a break point herself to stretch the match to a decider.
The third set came down to another break in the 6th game for Osaka, as she fended off all 5 break points against her in the decider.
After saving 4 in the opening game, which would have seen Bertens set the tone, Osaka erased the Dutch No 1’s last chance at 4-2, and held to love to win the match.
Osaka will play Karolina Pliskova in the semi-finals, winner over Alison Riske, 7-6(6) 6-3.
Pliskova took another step towards defending her Brisbane International title as she saw off the American in an hour and 55 minutes.
The Czech approached the encounter with a 6-0 head-to-head record against the World No 19, but had been pushed to more than two hours in each of their previous 3 meetings and was again seriously troubled by an opponent who shot into the Top 20 in the second half of 2019.
Riske, who held a 4-5 record against Top 10 players last year, even held 2 set points in the opener after fighting back from a break down, but could not maintain that level into the second as the World No 2 continued her dominance over her.
“It’s always close,” Pliskova said in her on-court interview. “I don’t know what it is about us, but we always play good tennis together.
“We have a very similar game, there’s always tiebreaks and I was lucky this time because she had a couple of set points. But I’m happy I got through in two sets as it was a hard match today.
“I don’t think I played amazing. I think I played solid, for sure, it was not the worst match in my life but for sure not the best one.
“I was 4-1 up but then I lost 6 points or 5 points in a row, which is I think too much, especially with my serve.
“I think she also played some good tennis. But I think that the biggest mistake in that set was just to give her that chance to come back from 5-2 and even though she was not playing the best tennis in the beginning.
“I think I just gave her some chances to go back in that set. And then she was playing good tennis, so there was nothing really to do about it.”
Osaka now waits in the semi-finals as Pliskova aims for a third Brisbane title.
Reflecting upon her Australian Open semi-final loss to the Japanese last year, she said: “It was 6-4 in the third, which is a match that could both ways. And I remember I beat her in the final of Tokyo, so I’ve got some good memories too.
“I saw her playing today and she played some great tennis so it’s going to be a good match and challenging.”
In the other section of the draw, 5th seed Petra Kvitova dropped only 6 games during her 6-4 6-2 win over Jennifer Brady, the American who knocked World No 1 Ash Barty out of the tournament.
Kvitova remained unbroken throughout the 80 minute encounter as she won an impressive 93% of her first service points, but only 55% of her second.
The next test for Kvitova will be a meeting with another American, Madison Keys, who defeated compatriot Danielle Collins, 6-4 6-1.
The two are tied at 3-3 in their head-to-head.
“Petra is Petra. Great serve, great forehand,” Keys said. “It seems like every year she comes out and she’s gotten something else in her game a little bit better and it just makes her even tougher to play.”
Kvitova last won the Brisbane tournament back in 2011.