’s-Hertogenbosch | Osaka posts first grass court win in 5 years

The Libema Open ’s-Hertogenbosch, the WTA 250 event in the Netherlands has been dogged by rain, as has much of Europe, and only 2 matches were completed on Monday, when 7th seed Donna Vekic defeated Tamara Korpatsch, and Greet Minnen overcame Rebeka Masarova, both in straight sets.

Definitely, really happy with my serve. I felt probably more confident in it on this surface than any other surface, so I'm glad I was able to pick that up quite fast. What do I need to improve? Probably being more confident on my returns. I felt I got a little hesitant and, kind of, reverted back to clay court. I thought about pushing back my returns at a certain point. But I know I have to commit. Naomi Osaka

Vekic, from Croatia, eased past Germany’s Korpatsch, 6-1 6-3, while Minnen, who is from Belgium, was a 6-2 6-4 winner over Spain’s Masarova. The two will meet in round 2 on Wednesday.

Tuesday saw more action, the highlight of which was Naomi Osaka’s upset win over another Belgian, 4th seeded Elise Mertens, 6-2 6-4, notching up her first triumph on the grass since Birmingham in 2019.

Osaka, a former World No 1 and 4-time Grand Slam champion from Japan, fired 7 aces and saved the only break point she faced against Mertens in the 70-minute match.

“I’m, kind of, taking it as if this is my first year on grass,” Osaka told reporters after her win. “I think even now, this is my first time at this tournament, so in some ways I feel like a newbie all over again.

“I’ve been in Europe since April, so this is a lot of commitment for me. I’m really happy that I’m doing this.”

Osaka’s strong serving and crisp baseline play was on full display in the match, which was Osaka’s first since her memorable performance in the 2nd-round of Roland Garros, where she held match point on eventual champion Iga Swiatek.

“I play better in the big stages against the best players,” Osaka said when asked to reflect on that Swiatek match. “I think I’ve always been that way.

“It’s more that I need to keep that level in smaller events.”


Naomi Osaka has made a successful transition from clay to grass

Libéma Open/Facebook

Transitioning to grass, a surface that Osaka should excel on, this was just her 23rd career match on the surface.

She has yet to progress past the 3rd round at Wimbledon, but she has made a pair of grass-court semi-finals, the first as a teenager at an ITF 50K in 2015, where she beat Anett Kontaveit to make the final, and the second on the Hologic WTA Tour at 2018 Nottingham, when she lost to Ash Barty.

Osaka improved her head-to-head record over Mertens to 4-2 with an unbreakable serving performance.

After saving break point in her second service game, Osaka did not face a break point for the remainder of the match, winning 90% of her first-serve points, while she was also perfect on her own break-point chances, breaking Mertens 3 times.

“Definitely, really happy with my serve,” Osaka said. “I felt probably more confident in it on this surface than any other surface, so I’m glad I was able to pick that up quite fast.

“What do I need to improve? Probably being more confident on my returns. I felt I got a little hesitant and, kind of, reverted back to clay court. I thought about pushing back my returns at a certain point. But I know I have to commit.”

Osaka finished the match with 21 winners to 13 unforced errors, while holding Mertens to just 9 winners, and she also avenged her loss to the Belgian in the 3rd round of the BNP Paribas Open in March.

“I felt initially on clay, coming back this year, more comfortable than my first day on grass,” Osaka said. “But I’m being told that I’m playing pretty well in practice. I think I just need a lot more days on it, and I need to believe in myself a lot more.

“Hopefully, if I win a lot more matches during these preparation tournaments, then I’ll believe in myself. That’s the key.”

Osaka will face wild-card Suzan Lamens in the 2nd round on Wednesday, after the 140 ranked Dutchwoman defeated American Bernarda Pera, 4-6 6-2 6-4, in her 1st round match.

Playing on home soil, Lamens notched up her 2nd career WTA main draw win, and her first on grass.


Top seed Jessica Pegula was an easy winner against qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich in her first match since April

WTAtennis.com

In other Day 3 action, top seed Jessica Pegula, the World No 5 from America, defeated Belarusian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich, 6-2 6-2.

Pegula showed no signs of rust on Tuesday in her first match since April, when she led the USA to victory at the Billie Jean King Cup qualifiers 2 months ago.

She picked up a rib injury in the spring, and was forced to skip the European clay season, which was a frustrating turn of events for the 30-year-old American, who was just starting to gain traction on her season.

She had made the quarter-finals or better at 3 of her past 4 tournaments, including the semi-finals in Charleston and San Diego, but the lingering pain in her rib worsened after Billie Jean King Cup, and she was struggling to sleep and felt pain when breathing.

After an MRI and multiple visits to the doctors, Pegula was diagnosed with cartilage irritation in her rib cage that had the potential to cause a stress fracture.

“The treatment for both of them is the same,” Pegula said. “So let’s take the safe route, treat it like a stress fracture.

“It’s just such a crazy year with the Olympics squeezed in. With my game, I’d rather be ready for grass and the rest of the hard-court season and grind out the rest of the year, than try and push it for clay and it doesn’t feel well. That’s why we played it safe.”

Playing her first event since Charleston, Pegula needed less than an hour to see off Sasnovich, playing a clean and disciplined match off the ground, and striking 9 winners to just 6 unforced errors, while she broke Sasnovich 5 times from 7 break points, and was broken just once herself.

“I was doing a lot of on-court movement stuff, which was really good because when I came back to playing it didn’t feel like I wasn’t playing,” Pegula said. “I’ve done that before, where I take a few weeks off and it’s a rough first week where you just feel so bad. But this time I felt pretty good.”

Pegula takes on Aleksandra Krunic next, the Serbian having got past Jessika Ponchet, a qualifier from France, 4-6 6-2 6-1.


3rd-seed Ekaterina Alexandrova needed 3 sets to get past Arina Rodionova on Tuesday

© Al Bello/Getty Images

Meanwhile, No 3 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia was a 6-3 6-4 winner against Australia’s Arina Rodionova, while her next opponent in round 2, Emina Bektas, an American qualifier, was a 6-4 6-0 winner over Russian Anna Blinkova.

Canada’s Bianca Andreescu came from a set down to defeat Dutch qualifier Eva Vedder, 4-6 6-3 6-2, and lines up 6th-seeded Yuan Yue of China next, who rallied for a 1-6 6-4 6-3 win over Russia’s Diana Shnaider.

Hungarian qualifier Dalma Galfi upset Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus, 6-0 6-3, and awaits the winner of Wednesday’s match between the No 5 seed, Veronika Kudermetova from Russia, and China’s Zhuoxuan Bai.

Wild-card Celine Naef, an 18-year old from Switzerland, defeated American qualifier Elizabeth Mandlik, 7-6(4) 1-6 6-4, to record her first tour-level win since reaching the quarters here last year.

The match between 8th-seeded Magda Linette from Poland and America’s Robin Montgomery was suspended at 5-5 in the 3rd set, Linette having taken the first set 7-6(4), and Montgomery claiming the second, 6-3.


Wild-card Suzan Lamens took down Bernard Pera in 3 sets and will face Naomi Osaka on Wednesday

Libéma Open/Facebook

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