Naomi Osaka solved the problem presented by Hsieh Su-wei in emphatic style to reach the semi-finals of the Australian Open on Tuesday, crushing the Taiwanese artistry, 6-2 6-2, in an hour 6 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
Today it was really important to have a plan, just because she's an opponent that I'm not really sure what's going to happen. So, just having something to structure myself, and not get carried away with what she's going to do, was definitely really important. Naomi Osaka
On a warm and muggy day, Osaka used her prior experience playing against her unorthodox opponent , which was in stark contrast to her victory over Hsieh en route to the AO title in 2019, when she had been forced to rally from a set and a break behind.
“Yeah, definitely really happy,” 23-year-old Osaka said on-court. “Really happy with how I played today.
“Every time I play her it’s a real battle and, despite the score, this was again a real battle today.”
On this occasion, Osaka attacked Hsieh’s weak serve with gusto, and the Taiwanese giant-killer quickly wilted under the pressure of her Grand Slam quarter-final debut, and she now awaits a semi-final encounter with either Serena Williams or Simona Halep, the pair having a rematch of the 2019 Wimbledon final in the evening session at RLA.
“I always watch Serena’s matches, anyway,” said Osaka, who has never failed to win a Grand Slam after making the quarter-finals. “Definitely going to be real fun.”
Her 66-minute success over Hsieh came as a welcome relief after the cliff-hanger of the previous round, when she saved 2 match points before squeezing past Garbiñe Muguruza.
“I would say it makes me a bit more calm, realising that even when my back was against the wall, I still had chances,” said Osaka.
“Even today when I had two match points and she saved them … I was a bit more calm.”
Hsieh, at 35 the oldest player to make her debut in a Grand Slam quarter-final in the Open era, mixes spins and slices to such effect that even Osaka admitted before the match that she often ‘could not fathom’ her opponent’s shot selection.
“In a sense, whenever I play, I feel like the ball is on my racket,” Osaka had said. “Whenever I play [Hsieh], there’s a bit of hesitation in that mindset for me.
“So, yeah, it’s definitely going to be tough. At the same time, it’s the quarters of a Slam, so it would be weird if it wasn’t tough.
“She’s able to hit winners off both sides. You never know when she’s about to go for it.“
The improbable angles conjured by Hsieh’s double-handed, double-sided game had the Japanese in some trouble early, but the Taiwanese was unable to convert any of the 3 break points she raised in the opening games of the first set.
Osaka quashed the first of them in the opening game with an ace down the ‘T’ and smashed Hsieh’s defences with a blazing backhand down the line to break to 3-1.
The early break settled Osaka’s nerves and she took control of the match behind an unerring first serve, seizing on a series of stray shots from her opponent to close out the opening set in 36 minutes.
Hsieh staved off 3 straight break-point opportunities in the 4th game to stay alive before eventually dropping her serve, and then had 2 more break-back chances in the next game, but was unable to capitalise.
Had Hsieh managed to win either of those games, the set may well have unfolded differently.
After holding on grimly through a 14-point game to hold serve, Osaka raised the pressure when Hsieh served to stay in the set at 5-2, and sealed it when the Taiwanese slapped a limp backhand wide.
Despite her dominance, Osaka was well aware of the danger posed by Hsieh, who in 4 of their 5 previous meetings had taken proceedings into a deciding set.
Hsieh was soon in a tailspin, however, pounding a backhand well over the line to be broken to 2-0 in the second, emboldening Osaka to race to the finish line.
The ever unpredictable Taiwanese, though, rallied on the cusp of defeat, producing 2 superb winners to save consecutive match points.
Osaka could only laugh as she was outwitted when Hsieh turned defence into offence and picked off the short ball, but a 3rd match point completed the 66-minute outing for the No 3 seed.
“Today it was really important to have a plan, just because she’s an opponent that I’m not really sure what’s going to happen,” said Osaka, in her post-match press conference.
“So, just having something to structure myself, and not get carried away with what she’s going to do, was definitely really important.”
It was far from a perfect match for the 23-year-old Japanese, who only landed 48 percent of her first serves, but she clobbered 24 winners to just 14 unforced errors, and lost only 2 points on her first delivery to notch up her 19th straight win, dating back to February last year.
Hsieh, playing her 38th major main draw appearance, and, at 35, the oldest player in the Open Era, since 1968, to make it this deep in a major for the first time, is the current doubles World No 1, but she was undone by 23 unforced errors.
“This is what happens in tennis,” Hsieh told the press, after the match. “Sometimes you are not taking the chance, you lose the point, then maybe you lose the match.
“This is what happened. I hope next time I do better.”
Osaka is now just two wins away from claiming a 4th major title.
“I felt like, today, I told myself just to be really intense from the beginning,” she said.
“I played her so many times, I felt like I knew what to expect and that I couldn’t afford to be lazy with my footwork or anything. I didn’t want to play three sets today.”
Next up for Osaka will be a tantalising semi-final meeting with a former World No 1 and multiple Grand Slam champion – either Serena Williams or Simona Halep, who play under the lights on RLA later on Tuesday.
Osaka is 2-1 against Williams, but 1-4 against Halep.
“Halep, I don’t really like playing her,” admitted Osaka. “She’s someone that’s really tough, someone that gets the ball back every time. For me it’s definitely a mental and physical battle.
“Of course, the same goes for Serena. She’s Serena, someone that I feel really intimidated when I see her on the other side of the court.
“But, yeah, I feel like them playing their match tonight is going to be really fun.”