Any possibility of Jo Konta and Katie Boulter meeting in a battle of the Brits quarter-final of the Gippsland Trophy were quashed by Irina-Camelia Begu and Naomi Osaka respectively, when both lost in three sets on Wednesday.
Today was really tough for me. It just felt like a new experience playing here again after such a long while. I thought she played really well. I sort of had to raise my level and kind of go within myself. Naomi Osaka
US Open champion Osaka extended her winning streak to 13 matches but only after riding out a stiff challenge from Boulter to beat the Briton, 3-6 6-3 6-1, while Konta lost by the narrowest of margins in a third set tiebreak.
Top seed and World No 2 Simona Halep later had a more routine passage into the last eight with a 6-2 6-4 win over German Laura Siegemund but Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek crashed out with a straight sets loss to Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova.
Osaka is playing her first WTA tournament since securing her second US Open title in September and said she was grateful for Wednesday’s workout after a comfortable win over Alizé Cornet in her season-opener on Tuesday.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better preparation match,” Osaka, the second seed, told reporters. “That’s something I couldn’t practice.
“So I’m very happy with how it went, actually. Even though it was long, I think there are a lot of things that I learned in this match.”
Boulter, who is in the midst of rebuilding following an injury hiatus that began as she debuted in the Top 100 just about 24 months ago, beat American Coco Gauff in the second round and another upset looked on the cards when she matched Osaka’s power-hitting to take the opening set on Margaret Court Arena.
After saving a break point in her opening service game, Boulter took advantage of Osaka’s rustiness and won the final five games to take the first set.
An early break put Osaka ahead in the second but Boulter had her opportunities, creating three break opportunities but converting just one.
“Today was really tough for me. It just felt like a new experience playing here again after such a long while,” Osaka said.
“I thought she played really well. I sort of had to raise my level and kind of go within myself.”
Osaka raced to a 3-0 lead in the second set but the 24-year-old Brit would not fold and had break points to put the stanza back on serve.
The 2019 Australian Open champion upped her return game to level up the match before running away with the third set and sealing a last eight tie against Begu.
Konta, the No 5 seed, Konta failed to convert 2 match points in the 2nd set tiebreak and defended 8 match points before ultimately being upset by the Romanian, 4-6 6-7(10) 6-7(4), in a Court 7 marathon that lasted 3 hours and 32 minutes.
It was the longest match of the WTA season to date, bettering Sara Sorribes Tormo’s win against Bernard Pera from Abu Dhabi by 9 minutes.
Also rallying from a set down to reach the quarters was No 3 seed Elina Svitolina, who overcame former French Open champion and No 13 seed Jelena Ostapenko, 6-7(4) 6-3 6-2, in a match that the Ukrainian called ‘a bit of a rollercoaster’.
Svitolina secured her win after an opening set where she trailed, led, and trailed again.
From 5-2 down, she saved 3 set points and won 4 straight games to earn the opportunity to serve for the lead, but lost that game to 15 and surrendered a 3-0 lead in the ensuing tiebreak.
“It was a bit windy and it was really tough to find the rhythm, and it’s not easy to play against her because she’s going for a lot of shots and you have to really be on your toes,” Svitolina added after the 2 hour, 12-minute win. “I was a bit flat in the first set and I wasn’t happy with the way I started.
“Afterwards, I was just trying to make an extra ball back and tried to make a difference on the balls I had a chance on.”
Despite the deficit on the scoreboard, Svitolina ultimately out-steadied Ostapenko to advance, sprinting out to 3-0 leads in the second and third sets and never trailed from then on.
“I was very happy the way that I bounced back in the second and third sets. Being more aggressive and putting more balls in the court was key, because I was making a lot of mistakes in the first set.”
Up next, Svitolina will take on No 7 seed Elise Mertens, who edged No 12 seed Caroline Garcia, 7-6(1) 6-3.
“I played a better match than yesterday [a 6-2, 6-2 win over Japan’s Mayo Hibi],” Mertens said. “I think everybody was holding serves.
“There weren’t a lot of rallies, but overall I think it was a good match.
“Second set, I served better. I got some more second serves so I could attack. I knew I had to attack the second serve because she’s got a really good kick.”
Svitolina and Mertens have played 4 times previously, with the Ukrainian holding a 3-1 head-to-head edge.
“I know her game and it’s going to be very different [than today]. It’ll be important for me to bring my best game from the beginning,” the No 3 seed said. “She tries to be aggressive, so we’ll go through with my coach the plan for the match.”
Halep looked every inch the Grand Slam champion in the opening set of her match against Siegemund but lost her way when her serve faltered and she was broken at the start of the second.
“I’m really happy with my victory today and I’m happy to be back here,” the former French Open and Wimbledon champion said.
The Romanian, whose last official tournament was the French Open last October, spent some time muttering to herself on the baseline but regained her composure and broke the German twice to secure her spot in the quarter-finals where she will meet Alexandrova, the No 9 seed, who upset Swiatek, 6-4 6-2.
Alexandrova produced a stunning performance to beat the reigning French Open champion, sealing a well-earned victory in some style by dominating on court over the 2 sets to defeat her higher-ranked Polish rival.
The 26-year-old needed just 79 minutes and never trailed in the match, serving 7 aces and breaking Swiatek’s serve 7 times.
In the last Gippsland Trophy match of Wednesday, Kaia Kanepi, who took out Aryna Sabalenka, the 4th seed on Day 1, continued her impressive run with a win over Russia’s Daria Kasatkina, 7-5 6-1.
The Estonian will play Karolina Muchova from the Czech Republic in the quarters next, after the No 8 seed defeated Italy’s Jasmine Paolini, 6-2 4-6 6-4.