Melbourne | Osaka, Svitolina and Pliskova make AO quarters

Naomi Osaka recovered from another slow start to book her quarter-final spot in Melbourne on Monday, Day 8 at the Australian Open.

I was watching all these kids winning, like, last night Tsitsipas beat Federer and I was like, 'woah', so I decided I wanted to do well too. Naomi Osaka

The US Open champion struggled to deal with Anastasija Sevastova early on, with the Latvian’s net-game especially impressive, but Osaka eventually scrapped her way through into the quarters for the first time, 4-6 6-3 6-4.

The World No 4 never panicked on Rod Laver Arena and confessed to being inspired by fellow young guns Stefanos Tsitsipas and Frances Tiafoe after edging a step closer to back-to-back Grand Slam crowns.

“I was thinking I’ve been in this position before, and actually last time it was a little bit worse,” Osaka laughed. “I didn’t give up.

“She was playing really well. I wasn’t really sure what to do at a point. I just try to stick in there.

“And also I was watching all these kids winning, like, last night Tsitsipas beat Federer and I was like, ‘woah’, so I decided I wanted to do well too.

“I mean, I was watching him and Tiafoe. I thought they were playing really well and just the fact that they came out here and played against some of the top players and won and I also want to do that.

“I think that’s everyone’s dream.”

Osaka is now one win from breaking a 13-year first-time Grand Slam winner’s curse.

The 21-year-old sensation became just the second woman of the past 15 maiden major victors to reach the quarter-finals at her subsequent major with the three-set triumph.

Plus, a next win for the fourth seed over Ukrainian No 6 seed Elina Svitolina would make her the first woman since Kim Clijsters at Australian Open 2006 to progress beyond the quarter-finals in that subsequent slam.

There was plenty to be proud of in the wake of surviving a second crafty opponent in succession, having stormed back against Su-Wei Hsieh in the previous round.

The 28-year-old Sevastova broke early in the opening set, holding on to the advantage to maintain pressure on her younger opponent.

Osaka buried her head in her hands and mumbled to herself as she served to stay in the set at 5-3, managing the hold but unable to prevent Sevastova serving the set out at 6-4 in 31 minutes.

“I think the biggest thing for me is the belief,” the Japanese No 1 said. “I think I believe in myself more this year than I have last year.

“Like in Brisbane, I played the same sort of match, like, I lost the first set and I managed to win again. And it was against the same player. So I think just having that experience.”

The wily Sevastova relied on her exceptional court coverage and variety of pace to frustrate the more erratic Osaka early on, breaking in the 3rd game and carrying the advantage to claim the opener.

The 4th seed knew she needed a more patient approach in the second set, working her way into points before pulling the trigger.

She grabbed her chance with back-to-back winners to break for 4-2 before the standard lifted a notch, as both women exchanged winners destined for the highlights reels when Osaka was serving for the set.

The 21-year-old Japanese claimed a searching rally with a lunge-volley winner to stave off break point and levelled the contest at the 62-minute mark, finishing the set with 18 winners.

“I feel like during the first set, I might have tried to over-hit or she was returning a lot of balls,” Osaka said. “So I thought I had to go for more than I did.

“In the second and third set, I calmed down and I tried to think that I should play within my boundaries.”

Sevastova is no stranger to the second week at majors, having reached the semi-finals and two quarter-finals at her past three US Opens, but as this battle wore on, it was Osaka whose game was lifting and the Latvian emotionally unravelled.

Osaka closed out the encounter with a blinding forehand down the line, her 51st winner of the match.

“Just the fact that I didn’t gave up [makes me happy],” Osaka said.

“She was playing really well and I wasn’t really sure what to do at a certain point, but I just tried to stick in there.”

Osaka will face Elina Svitolina on Wednesday for a semi-final berth after the Ukrainian 6th seed earlier ousted American Madison Keys, 6-2 1-6 6-1, in their fourth-round affair.

Elina Svitolina celebrates her victory over Madison Keys

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Elina Svitolina mastered Madison Keys to unlock her passage into the quarter-finals on Monday in Melbourne, recovering after dropping the second set to secure a place with a 6-2 1-6 6-1 victory after an hour and 36 minutes.

The Ukrainian 6th seed, who has claimed 13 tour titles including at last year’s WTA Finals in Singapore, has struggled to make an impact at the Grand Slams but is now hoping to progress beyond the last eight at a major for the first time.

“(Singapore) gave me a huge boost of confidence, so I don’t think about the other, the past anymore,” the 24-year-old Svitolina told reporters.

“I only look forward. I look for next challenge. I try to win as many matches as I can, as many titles as I can, and this is the goal for the year.”

The Ukrainian has reached the quarter-finals in Melbourne twice, as well as on two more occasions at the French Open.

She started brightly, racing to a 4-0 lead with two early breaks of serve as her 17th-seeded American opponent struggled to find her range and rhythm.

After returning to the court from a medical timeout to have her toe taped up, Svitolina converted her second set point when Keys found the net with a return as she registered her 11th unforced error of the match.

Keys, a quarter-finalist in Melbourne last year, roared back in the second set as she finally managed to tame her powerful groundstrokes, sprinting to a 5-0 lead before converting her second set point to level the match.

Svitolina was wobbling but the tenacious base-liner dug deep to save 5 break points in a marathon third game of the decider lasting more than 16 minutes, the vital hold giving her the impetus to kick on for victory.

The inability to secure the break appeared to knock the stuffing out of the 2017 US Open finalist in the next game as the American committed 3 more unforced errors and served a double-fault to hand Svitolina the break.

Sensing victory, Svitolina did not allow Keys any more opportunities and broke again in the 6th game before converting her first match point to seal the contest in an hour and 36 minutes.

“I always try to put pressure on the opponent. I think I’m in quarter-final because I have been solid in all the matches. It worked really good,” added Svitolina, who performed a celebratory dance after securing the win.

“I try to be there all the time with my game, try to bring the best. And I know that I can challenge good players and I can win. The Singapore week showed that I can be, you know, out there and winning tough matches.”

Reaching the last four will be a tough task, however, with Svitolina next meeting US Open champion Naomi Osaka after the Japanese fourth seed defeated Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova, 4-6 6-3 6-4, in their fourth round encounter.

Svitolina and Osaka have met five times before with the Ukrainian holding a 3-2 lead in their head-to-head rivalry.

Karolina Pliskova swings into her forehand

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Czech seventh seed Karolina Pliskova marched into the Australian Open quarter-finals for the third straight year on Monday with a commanding straight sets win over 18th seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain.

Pliskova triumphed 6-3, 6-1 to set up a last eight meeting with the winner of the night match, either World No 1 Simona Halep or 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams.

The 26-year-old has been a regular in the second week at the Grand Slams in recent years, reaching the quarters or better seven times since late 2016 while still searching for a breakthrough win.

She claims Melbourne Park as her favourite major after also reaching the quarters in 2017 and 2018 and having entered this year’s event on a high after winning the Brisbane International warm-up tournament.

“I feel better with every match that I play here,” Pliskova said.

She went into the match with a 7-2 winning record over Muguruza and always looked confident against the Spaniard, who never settled and committed 20 unforced errors in the match.

The Spaniard had endured a physically draining late clash with Briton Johanna Konta in the third round that set a tournament record after it began in the early hours of Friday morning.

Muguruza is still seeking the form that propelled her to the World No 1 ranking and delivered a French Open title in 2016 and Wimbledon a year later.

The pair, both experienced Grand Slam campaigners, exchanged breaks early in the first set.

Both were aggressive as they tried to seize the initiative, with Muguruza unafraid to come to the net and almost getting herself in trouble when a Pliskova lob left her stranded.

The Spaniard struggled to find her radar with her returns, hitting them long to give Pliskova an easy ride on her service games.

The Czech gained an edge with a break in the 8th game, sending a looping forehand high across the court and directly into the line.

A despairing Muguruza challenged but the decision stood and Pliskova held easily to take the first set.

She followed up with a break in the opening game of the second and notched another in the 5th after another Muguruza error, putting the match beyond the Spaniard’s reach.

“I think I played well. Obviously the important thing was the first set when we had some close games – the beginning was nervous from us both,” said Pliskova after the win on MCA, the Czech’s favourite court.

“It’s a little bit tricky here, with the wind and the shadows, just have to stay focused.”

Muguruza was left looking shell-shocked as Pliskova hooked a forehand winner cross-court with the Spaniard serving to stay in the match to no avail, the Czech wrapping things up in 59 minutes when Muguruza sent a backhand long.

With the sun still setting across MCA, Pliskova departed in plenty of time to settle back and watch Halep take on 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams.

“For sure it’s going to be the match of the tournament so far,” Pliskova said. ”I know both of them, I’ve played both of them already. It’s definitely going to be tough.

“Simona is No 1, always tough to play her, and Serena is in great shape and so far hasn’t lost many games. So we’ll see.”




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