The two top seeds in the women’s draw at Cincinnati survived tough tests to reach the quarter-finals of the Western & Southern Open on Thursday.
The best thing is, when my back was against the wall, the tennis was there Ashleigh Barty
Both Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka faced tricky opponents in Anett Kontaveit and Su-Wei Hsieh respectively but both came through, while Madison Keys up-ended Simona Halep’s chances of reaching another Cincy Masters final.
The Romanian became the first top-four seed to fall, with Barty, Osaka and Karolina Pliskova booking their spots in the quarter-finals.
Barty was pushed hard before getting past Kontaveit, 4-6 7-5 7-5, in 2 hours, 10 minutes.
The Australian gave away 49 unforced errors and found herself 5-3 down in the final set before winning 4 straight games to advance.
The top-seeded Australian clinched the battling victory with a deep forehand winner and raised her right fist in triumph after fighting off a match point and outlasting Kontaveit, striking 31 winners and 9 aces and breaking the Estonian 6 times in the process.
The French Open champion is currently ranked No 2 in the world but can reclaim her top spot by reaching the tournament final at this US Open warm-up event in Ohio.
Into the last eight in Cincinnati for the first time, Barty, who fought past Maria Sharapova in her opener, will play Maria Sakkari after the Greek dispatched Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus, 6-7(4) 6-4 6-4, to advance.
“The best thing is, when my back was against the wall, the tennis was there,” Barty said.
“It may not have been there for the whole match, but we were able to find it when we needed it.”
Kontaveit got an early break in the 3rd game to take a 2-1 lead, but Barty broke straight back in the next to draw level at 2-2.
The Estonian got a second break in the 9th game to take a 5-4 lead and served out the first set.
Kontaveit went up a break twice in the second, at 1-0 and 4-3, but Barty broke straight back both times, earning her own decisive break to win the set 7-5 and force the match into the decider.
Both players went with serve in the first 6 games before Kontaveit got a break to take a 4-3 lead and came within two points away from winning the match when she served for the win at 5-4
Barty broke back to draw level at 5-5 and then won the final 2 games to seal the hard-fought win and set up the meeting with Sakkari, who needed even longer to dispatch Sabalenka on a hot and very humid day.
Osaka, who eked out her 7-6 5-7 6-2 victory over Hsieh to reach her first ever quarter-final, admitted that the Taiwanese was an unpredictable opponent for her, having lost to her at the Miami Masters earlier in the year.
“I thought I did pretty well,” Osaka told reporters after firing 15 aces and breaking Hsieh 5 times. “I feel like I knew going into the match that she was going to play really well.
“We have such long matches every time we play, so I wasn’t expecting anything different this time around.”
The World No 1 held solid against the tricky Hsieh after claiming her first ever main draw win in Cincy against Aliaksandra Sasnovich, where she had to rally after a mid-match letdown to win in three, 7-6(3) 2-6 6-2.
Despite a 3-1 record against Hsieh, it was a matchup that Osaka was not looking forward to: “I never know what to expect with her,” she said ahead of the match.
“That’s kind of the fun part, so I expect that I’ll laugh a lot because there are things that are out of my control.
“But, yeah, the last time I played her in Miami, I just remember being frustrated. I think everyone could see that.”
A smiling Osaka kept her frustration under wraps on this occasion and stayed toe-to-toe with her opponent, needing just under 2 and a half hours to advance.
Hsieh got off to a flying start, employing her variety and slices to earn an early break for a 2-0 lead, but Osaka was right back in it a few games later, leveling the score at 2-2.
The pair traded breaks again and, as In the decisive third set, Osaka faced 4 break points on her opening service but fought them all off before seizing 4 straight games to take firm control.
Hsieh got ahead at 5-4 and served for the first set, but a handful of loose errors had Osaka breaking back to love to push them into a tiebreak where it was all down to the Japanese, who reeled off 6 of the last 7 points to take the set.
The Taiwanese, however, who has taken Osaka to 3 sets in all but one of their previous matches, struck back in the second set, continuing to vex her opponent with her variety of shotmaking and, once again, earned an early break for 3-1.
Osaka erased that lead, making it 3-2, and they both held for the rest of the set until the Japanese surrendered a break to give Hsieh the set, 7-5.
In the final set, Hsieh looked to strike early again, and created 4 break points in a marathon first service game for Osaka, but the World No 1 denied her, raising her level to reel off the next 4 games in a row to build up a daunting 5-1 lead.
Osaka wasted no time in closing out the match, claiming the victory after 2 hours and 29 minutes out on Court 10.
“For me, there was a moment in the third set where I just started laughing because I felt myself getting a bit irritated,” Osaka admitted.
“But then I was thinking to myself, I think I’m getting irritated because it’s so hard. This match is so hard.
“And I’m, like, But this is funny to me, because I love playing hard matches. So how can I be getting irritated if it’s what I want?
“It’s one of those things where you think, like, this is the moment where you test yourself. This is a moment that you think is, like, the moments that you live for. Yeah, that’s what I was thinking about.”
Up next for the No 2 seed, Osaka will face the 20-year old American Sofia Kenin for a spot in the semi-finals, who took out the 7th-seeded Elina Svitolina, 6-3 7-6(3).
Venus Williams also went the distance before claiming a 2-6 6-3 6-3 victory over Croatia’s Donna Vekic and she now faces Keys.
The 39-year-old has struggled at times this season but has been resilient in Cincinnati, defeating defending champion Kiki Bertens in three sets in the previous round.
Third seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic is also through, beating Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson, 7-5 6-4.
She next faces Svetlana Kuznetsova, who easily upset Sloane Stephens, the 8th seed, 6-1 6-2.