Osaka and Halep cruise into Melbourne 1 quarters

Naomi Osaka was in a much sharper mood on Thursday when she dispatched Belgian qualifier Maryna Zanevska 6-1 6-1 in under an hour and booked her quarter-final berth in the Melbourne Summer Set 1 event, joining No 2 seed Simona Halep in the last 8 of the WTA 250 event.

I’m playing well, I’m confident, but it’s a new match. I’m just trying to enjoy and play my best tennis, because if I play my best tennis, I have a chance to win. Simona Halep

Earlier in the day, Halep saw off fellow Romanian Elena-Gabriela Ruse, 6-3 6-1, and will meet Viktorija Golubic, the 6th seed from Switzerland, while Osaka will take on Germany’s Andrea Petkovic next.

Osaka had contested just 6 tour events since her winning the Australian Open on this very same court last year, and was happy to have slashed her unforced error count from 55 against Cornet to 18.

“I feel like I’m the type of player that gets better with matches, but Wim [Fissette]’s a really great coach,” Osaka said. “I think we get along really well.

“Me and my whole team, we have really good chemistry and he really understands me really well, so I’m honoured to have him as my coach.

“I think we’re just growing and we’re learning more about each other so it’s really cool.”

The top seed broke her Belgian opponent twice in the first set and three times in the second as she overpowered Zanevska on Rod Laver Arena to continue her Australian Open preparations, where she will be the defending champion.

Osaka is playing her first tournament since the US Open in September, having earlier withdrawn from both the French Open and Wimbledon, citing mental health issues.

The four-time Grand Slam champion did play in the Tokyo Olympics in front of her home crowd but suffered a shock third-round defeat to Czech Marketa Vondrousova.

After defeating Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet in 3 sets on Tuesday, Osaka said she aimed to enjoy herself on her return to the court.

“I did get a lot of nerves out in the first match [against Cornet], but I was nervous again today, but just because I’ve never played her before, so it was a bit unfamiliar,” Osaka said.

“I thought that I learned a lot from my match on Tuesday, so I’m really glad that I was able to apply it, and I think my biggest thing was my first serve percentage.

“I’m really happy with how that went today.”

Zanevska, the World No 82 who has spent most of her career playing on the secondary ITF tour, has never beaten a current top-20 player, and the step-up in the firepower she faced from Osaka was obviously a step too far as the Japanese finished with 14 winners to set a meeting with Petkovic, a former World No 9.

The German outlasted France’s Clara Burel, 7-5 2-6 6-4, earlier on Thursday.

“I just know she’s a really good player and I just remember watching her do her little dances after she won,” Osaka said of Petkovic.

“I don’t want to see that tomorrow, but yeah, I’m just really happy to be out here, so hopefully we play a good match tomorrow.”

Andrea Petkovic outlasted Clara Burel and will provide a sterner test for Naomie Osaka in the quarter-final at Melbourne Summer Set 1

© Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Petkovic told WTA Insider that 2022 could be her final season: “I’m 34, which is young for life, but old for tennis.

“I’m seeing the finish line. I don’t know if it’s going to be this season or next season, but I can see the finish line and, at times, it makes me really sad because this is my passion.”

Knowing that her playing days are numbered, Petkovic is taking nothing for granted.

Her gritty wins over Liudmila Samsonova and Burel have earned her a shot at Osaka for spot in the semi-finals.

Eight years ago, Petkovic handed Osaka her first WTA loss in the second round of the 2014 Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, where Osaka made her main draw debut.

“I felt like she definitely taught me a lesson that day,” Osaka said, recalling the 6-2 6-2 loss. “Yeah, I definitely got my butt kicked.”

Petkovic always gives it her all and Osaka will surely be tested.

“My goal for this year has been to be the most professional, best version of myself that I can be on court according to everything, the physical stuff, the recovery stuff, but as well the mental stuff,” Petkovic said.

“I just want to go out there and grind every point, believe in myself, and then see how far it takes me with my body.”

Simona Halep also had little trouble getting past fellow Romanian and doubles partner Elena-Gabriela Ruse to reach the quarter-finals at Melbourne 1

© Graham Denholm/Getty Images

Earlier in the day, Halep, who missed Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Olympics last season due to a calf injury, produced a routine straight sets win over doubles partner Ruse.

“Very happy that I could win this match in this way,” Halep said on court, after the match. “The beginning was a little bit different, so I didn’t feel the ball great, but slowly I started to feel the game, and I think I was dominating the match.

“I’m very happy with the way I played. I worked a lot in the off-season, so I feel ready to play matches.

“Actually, I missed playing official matches a lot, so here I am, and I try every time to give my best.”

Untroubled in her second-round match, the 30-year old, like Osaka is a former World No 1, and took just 61 minutes to see off Ruse to book her quarter-final against Golubic, who was impressive in her 6-3 6-0 win over Dutchwoman Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove.

Halep won her only encounter with the 29-year old Golubic in 2018, in the Fed Cup, 6-3 1-6 6-1.

“At this level, everyone is playing well,” added Halep. “I’m just focusing on myself, as I did these two matches.

“I’m playing well, I’m confident, but it’s a new match. I’m just trying to enjoy and play my best tennis, because if I play my best tennis, I have a chance to win.”

In other results on Thursday, Zheng Qinwen, a 19-year old qualifier from China, managed to get past Russian veteran Vera Zvonaerva, 5-7 6-3 6-4, to set up a quarter-final meeting with 24-year old Ana Konjuh from Croatia, who dealt with the tricky Kaia Kanepi from Estonia, 6-2 3-6 6-3.

The last quarter-final will be between 3rd-seeded Veronika Kudermetova, who defeated American Madison Brengle, 6-0 3-6 7-5, and fellow Russian Anastasia Potapova, a 6-4 6-7(4) 6-4 winner over Anna Bondar, a qualifier from Hungary.



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