Osaka Advances While Barty Ousts Azarenka At Miami Open

Naomi Osaka of Japan returns a shot during her singles second round match against Ajla Tomljanović of Australia on Day 5 of the 2021 Miami Open presented by Itaú at Hard Rock Stadium on March 26, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Mark Brown/Getty Images/AFP

 

Reigning US and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka advanced to the Miami Open quarter-finals on Monday, stretching her win streak to 23 matches by defeating Belgian 16th seed Elise Mertens 6-3, 6-3.

The second-ranked Japanese star will next face Greek 23rd seed Maria Sakkari, who outlasted US 29th seed Jessica Pegula 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (8/6) at the WTA and ATP Masters Series event.

“I started off really well and then for some reason I became a little sluggish. My speed didn’t really feel the same,” Osaka said.

“I thought it was really mental from then on. In the end, it was who fought the hardest.”

Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka broke at love for a 2-0 lead and broke again for a 5-1 edge but Mertens broke Osaka at love in the seventh game and denied four set points for Osaka to hold in an eighth game that lasted almost 10 minutes.

Osaka, seeking her first Miami crown, saved a break point with her third ace and finally finished off the first set on her seventh chance with a service winner.

In the second set, Osaka needed her fifth chance of the third game to break Mertens, only for the Belgian to quickly break back to 2-2 and hold to 3-2 before requiring treatment for a right shoulder injury.

Osaka won the last four games after that, breaking at love in the seventh game, holding at love in the eighth and breaking again to end matters after 88 minutes when Mertens netted a forehand.

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Top-ranked defending champion Ashleigh Barty battled into the quarter-finals by outlasting former world number one Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 1-6, 6-2.

Australia’s Barty broke five times, the last when Azarenka netted a forehand volley to end matters after one hour and 52 minutes at Hard Rock Stadium.

Barty, who had to save a match point on the way to a three-set victory over Kristina Kucova in the second round, plays Tuesday against seventh seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who downed Czech 19th seed Marketa Vondrousova 6-1, 6-2.

“I’m just excited I get to be in another quarter-final of a big event,” Barty said.

“I still feel like there’s a lot better tennis left out there for me. I still don’t feel like I’m playing my very best just yet, but I’m fighting through and I’m finding ways to win, which is great.”

The 2019 French Open winner dominated the first set but Azarenka broke for a 2-0 lead in the second, then fought back from 0-40 down to hold for 3-0 on the way to forcing a third set.

After an early exchange of breaks, Azarenka denied Barty on two break chances in the fourth game but the 24-year-old Queenslander broke in the sixth game and again on the last point.

“First two sets probably had some pretty big momentum swings,” Barty said. “But I think the third set was a real tussle.”

Ukraine’s fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina rallied to defeat Czech ninth seed Petra Kvitova 2-6, 7-5, 7-5.

“I’m really happy with how I bounced back from being a set down,” Svitolina said. “I’m happy with how I’m playing and handling the pressure. I had to bring my best game to win.”

Svitolina’s quarter-final foe will be Latvia’s 57th-ranked Anastasija Sevastova, who eliminated Croatia’s 338th-ranked Ana Konjuh 6-1, 7-5.

– Tsitsipas, Rublev win –

On the men’s side, Greek second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Japanese 28th seed Kei Nishikori 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 after an hour and 56 minutes to reach the last 16.

Tsitsipas will next face Italian 24th seed Lorenzo Sonego, who dispatched Colombian Daniel Galan 7-6 (8/6), 6-3.

Russian fourth seed Andrey Rublev routed Hungarian 29th seed Marton Fucsovics 6-2, 6-1, to reach the fourth round.

“I’ve played some great tennis last couple of months,” Rublev said. “We’ll see if I can keep going.”

The 23-year-old from Moscow will next face Croatia’s 32-year-old Marin Cilic, the world number 45 who beat Italy’s 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti 6-3, 6-4.

“Very pleased,” Cilic said. “Just have to battle it out with these youngsters. I’ve got to keep the heads high for the veterans on the tour.”

AFP

Osaka Aims To Inspire New Generation But Says Williams Is Still The Queen

Japan’s Naomi Osaka (L) gives a hug to Serena Williams of the US after their women’s singles semi-final match on day eleven of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 18, 2021. (Photo by William WEST / AFP) 

 

Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka said she felt comfortable being a role model for the next generation after her fourth Grand Slam victory solidified her position at the forefront of a new era for tennis.

But the Japanese star, a four-time major-winner at the age of just 23, insisted America’s Serena Williams, 39 — who has 23 Slam crowns — remains the face of the women’s game.

Osaka beat America’s Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-3 in the Australian Open final on Saturday to win her fourth Slam from the last eight in which she has played, and extend her year-plus winning streak to 21 matches.

She joins Monica Seles and Roger Federer in winning her first four major finals, and will move up to second in the world rankings.

Her sweeping triumph was viewed as heralding a shift in women’s tennis with Australia’s Fed Cup captain Alicia Molik declaring it a “changing of the guard”, while the New Yorker said Osaka was the “most thrilling athlete of her generation”.

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Osaka brushed aside Williams in the semis, after also beating her in the stormy 2018 US Open final to win her first major.

But when asked if she was now taking over from Williams as the game’s leading light, Osaka replied: “No, not at all,” adding that she simply wanted to remain true to herself.

“I have learned on-and-off the court it’s okay to not be sure about yourself,” she said.

“I’m more at peace with where I am, and I’m honestly just happy to be playing a Grand Slam in a pandemic.”

– ‘Growing as a person’ –

After winning her second Australian Open title, Osaka spent a lengthy time signing autographs for fans in a gesture that received widespread applause on social media.

Having once grappled with fame as a shy youngster, a content Osaka said she was still “growing as a person” but hoped to provide inspiration to young players.

“In the past, I felt it as a very strong responsibility, and I was also very scared and nervous of it,” she said.

“It’s a really big honour that there are little kids that like me, that come to my matches and cheer for me.

“But at the same time, I don’t weigh it too heavily on myself.”

A more mature Osaka, who says she gained greater perspective during tennis’s coronavirus shutdown, said she now appreciated the difficulty of winning a Grand Slam.

“I feel like I know how much hard work you have to put into this, because the first time that I have won both these trophies I think, in a way, I was just a kid,” she said, referring to her wins at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing.”

Her win prompted celebrations in Japan, where she will play the Tokyo Olympics this year, while Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi tweeted his congratulations from the International Space Station.

“There are many Japanese fans who are very excited now that Naomi has won the Australian Open,” Japan’s 58th-ranked Yoshihito Nishioka told AFP ahead of next week’s ATP Singapore Open.

“I’m sure they will be following the progress of Japanese players in more tennis tournaments around the world.”

But Osaka said her biggest goal wasn’t Grand Slam titles, an Olympic medal or returning to world number one.

“I feel like the biggest thing that I want to achieve is… hopefully I play long enough to play a girl that said that I was once her favourite player,” she said.

“For me, I think that’s the coolest thing that could ever happen to me… Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play Li Na, but, I just think that that’s how the sport moves forward.”

Wimbledon Open: Li Na Crashes Out, Djokovic Advances Despite Injury Scare

djokovic

Second seed, Li Na, was beaten 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-5) by Barbora Strycova in the third round of the women’s singles.

China’s Li was badly out of sorts against her Czech opponent, who will play 16th seed Caroline Wozniacki next.

Australian Open champion Li, 32, has not advanced beyond the third round in eight appearances at Wimbledon and lost in the first round at this year’s French Open.

Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki reached round four with a 6-3 6-0 defeat of Croatia’s Ana Konjuh.

Romania’s third seed, Simona Halep, runner up at this year’s French Open, reached round three with a 6-3 4-6 6-4 victory over Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko.

Twenty-two year old, Halep will play world number 71 Belinda Bencic next after the Swiss player beat American Victoria Duval 6-4 7-5.

Russian Ekaterina Makarova, seeded 22, also reached the fourth round with a 7-5 6-3 defeat of France’s Caroline Garcia.

In the men category, top seed Novak Djokovic moved into the fourth round of the men’s singles with a comfortable 6-4 6-2 6-4 defeat of Frenchman Gilles Simon despite injury scare.

The world number two will play 14th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga next after the Frenchman beat Jimmy Wang 6-2 6-2 7-5.

Djokovic was leading 3-2 in the third set and seemingly closing in on an uneventful victory when he dived to reach a forehand and appeared to twist his left arm.

The 2011 champion looked in extreme pain but a trainer manipulated his shoulder and the 27-year-old was able to continue.

South Africa’s Kevin Anderson beat 16th seed Fabio Fognini in five sets.

Anderson, the 20th seed, won 4-6 6-4 2-6 6-2 6-1 and will play Britain’s Andy Murray in round four, if the defending champion wins his third-round match against Roberto Bautista Agut.