Osaka masters Muguruza, crafty Hsieh next

It promised to be a blockbuster of a match, and so it proved, when Naomi Osaka got herself out of a jam, saving 2 match points and going on to win her 4th round contest with Garbiñe Muguruza, 4-6 6-4 7-5, at the Australian Open on Sunday to set up a quarter-final clash with the crafty Hsieh Su-Wei.

We all know she's a very good player. Anyone play her, they will get troubles. I not worry about it. She probably going to smash me on the court. I try to play my game, do my job, see what happens. Hsieh Su-Wei

It was just a shame there were no fans on hand to see the high quality of tennis produced by the No 3 and 14 seeds in the Round of 16.

Both are former World No 1s and share a career Grand Slam between them – Osaka winning two US Opens and an Australian Open, and Muguruza a French and Wimbledon champion.

It was a titanic battle worthy of a major final that saw Osaka trailing by a set and a break in the second, a break in the third and staring down match points at 4-5, before the Japanese shifted into high gear to conjure up a magnificent victory by winning 4 games in a row.

The result extends Osaka’s winning streak to 18 matches, a run which dates back to last February, and includes last year’s US Open trophy.

“I feel like, today, I didn’t know what to expect because I’d never played her before, but I just knew it was going to be tough,” Osaka said.

“I feel like I was a bit intimidated because I knew that she was playing really well coming into this match. For me I feel like in the stressful points I just had to go within myself.

“I know, today, I probably hit a lot of unforced errors, but it was something I probably needed to do because I couldn’t really give her any short balls because she’d finish it.”

Runner-up to Ash Barty in last Sunday’s Yarra Valley Classic final, Muguruza was also on an impressive run of her own, winning 9 of her past 11 matches and spending a mere 3 hours and 13 minutes on court in her first 3 AO rounds.

Last year’s finalist fell behind after an early break, but she soon set the pace, landing 92 per cent of her first serves deep in the opening set and taking a 2-0 lead in the second.

Osaka pegged it back, though, and kept her nose in front before pouncing on her third set point to force a decider.

There was early trouble for Muguruza as she stared down a break point in the 4th game of the third, but she steadied to stay with her opponent and made Osaka pay.

A double-fault surrendered the first break of the decider as Osaka was now fighting with herself as much as her opponent.

Muguruza went for the jugular as she hammered a second-serve return to draw the error and with it, 2 match points at 5-4 but, again, Osaka fended both off and promptly held with an ace before she broke the suddenly passive Spaniard.

It was an opening the Japanese grabbed with both hands and never relinquished, recovering from 5-3, 15-40 down on serve to run off 4 straight games to complete an improbable comeback on Rod Laver Arena in an hour and 55 minutes.

“I think, today, was just a battle, like if I can just describe it in one word,” Osaka said. “For me, I feel like I’m very happy with myself for the way I overcame the match.

“I think maybe a year ago – definitely a year ago – I probably wouldn’t have won this match.

“There are so many things that I was thinking about on the court that just would have blocked me from trying to win the match or trying to problem solve.”

Osaka hammered down 11 aces and struck 40 winners over the course of the match to overcome Muguruza in blistering baseline rallies as the match wore on.

Garbine Muguruza dominated most of the match against Naomi Osaka but dropped her intensity at the end and bowed out at Melbourne Park

© David Gray/AFP via Getty Images

While it was a tough loss for the Spaniard, it was a match Muguruza vowed she would draw positives from once the dust settled.

“Overall, I think it was a pretty good match. We had a lot of great points,” Muguruza said.. “I felt, of course, a little bit disappointed being 5-3 in the third set up, having match points.

“It’s never a good feeling losing a match that you feel you could have change in one second.

“But I left the court with a good feeling, very good feeling of this tournament in general.

“Really the difference, I feel, like it was one point. It’s tough to say – probably one point that she played well, a big serve, a serve that I did well.

“I feel like I was a bit intimidated because, I knew that, she was playing really well.”

Osaka’s quarter-final opponent will be the wily 35-year-old, Hsieh Su-Wei from Taiwan, a 6-4 6-2 winner over 19th seed Marketa Vondrousova, and a task which Osaka admits she finds daunting.

“I’m not really looking forward to it,” she said. “She’s going to be really tough.

“Every time I’ve played her its three sets, really long. I played her two years ago here … I know that all the people she’s played are super difficult and for me I feel like whenever I play her I just have to expect everything.

“It’s [Hsieh’s style] makes it really tricky. I know the people she’s played are super difficult and for me whenever I play her I have to expect everything.

“She’s one of those players that, for me, if it was a video game, I would want to select her character just to play as her,” she added.

“Because my mind can’t fathom the choices she makes when she’s on the court. It’s so fun to watch.

“It’s not fun to play, but it’s really fun to watch.”

A delighted Su-Wei Hsieh got past Marketa Vondrousova in straight sets to make her first major quarter-final at the age of 35

© Matt King/Getty Images

Hsieh, who is the World No 1 in doubles, became the oldest first-time quarter-finalist at a major, following her 71-minute win over the 2019 French Open runner-up on Margaret Court Arena, and it comes in her 38th Grand Slam main draw appearance.

“I try to show people that tennis is not just about money or sponsors,” Hsieh said. “Even if you don’t have any sponsor and keep trying hard, and working hard and keep finding a way to get into doubles or singles, it doesn’t matter, you still find a way to go somewhere you never think about.

“This is what I’m doing and I’m very happy that I’ve made it at a good level. It can show a lot of people that anything can happen.”

Hsieh is a renowned giant-killer, having taken out former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu in the 2nd round, 2012 French Open finalist Sara Errani in the 3rd round and 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova in the 4th round.

With two 4th-round losses at the major Down Under on her card, the third was the charm for Hsieh as the crafty veteran used her divine court craft to outwit the left-handed Vondrousova, and won 80 percent of her first-service points to bolster her slicing and dicing.

Hsieh let a big 5-2 lead slip when she was unable to convert set point in that game, and Vondrousova powered her way back to 5-4, but a love hold, punctuated by a whipping double-handed winner, allowed the Taiwanese to close out the set on her second time of asking.

Slamming a winning backhand to break Vondrousova in the first game of the second, Hsieh rolled on from there, reeling off 5 straight games in total to get to 4-0.

A double-fault on her first match point at 5-2 was a brief stutter, and on her second shot, Vondrousova sent a return wide to give Hsieh a new milestone in her singles career.

Marketa Vondrousova found the crafty play of Su-Wei Hsieh exasperating on Sunday

© Matt King/Getty Images

An adopted Aussie, after hiring Paul McNamee in 2011, Hsieh spends her off-seasons training Down Under.

“I have an Australian coach, Australian fitness coach, Australian massage [therapist], Australian hitting partner, so, its extra special,” Hsieh said.

Her game style reflects her attitude and the World No 71 calls her strategy ‘Su-Wei style’, consisting of slices, spins, slaps and many drop shots, often confusing her opponents while switching hands on her two-handed strokes.

Vondrousova is also no stranger to the drop shot, as the talented lefty loves to dupe her opponents with a pace switch-up, but only one of the two players had it clicking today, and the Czech was hampered by 31 unforced errors in the match, almost double her winner count.

Fourteen years older than her 21-year-old Czech opponent, Hsieh moves casually on court, especially off her serve, but it’s not lack of effort: she knows exactly where to stand to dictate the point.

Time after time she pulled Vondrousova around the court and finished things off with a snappy crosscourt backhand, and the Czech’s exasperation at the trickery told as her body language became more negative while, at times, she grimaced in pain after long points had her bent over at the waist, both of her upper legs taped.

While Osaka leads the head-to-head against Hsieh, 4-1, the Taiwanese isn’t phased about her quarter-final appearance.

“We all know she’s a very good player. Anyone play her, they will get troubles,” Hsieh said. “I not worry about it. She probably going to smash me on the court. I try to play my game, do my job, see what happens.”



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