NEW YORK — Japan’s Ai Sugiyama, Shinobu Asagoe and Saori Obata all advanced to the third round of the U.S. Open on Thursday, an impressive Grand Slam showing by rising tennis stars from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Sugiyama, the 11th seed, lost the first set in 29 minutes but rallied to oust France’s 56th-ranked Virginie Razzano 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, and equal her best U.S. Open showing in 10 appearances.
Asagoe, rated 55th coming off her best Slam showing with a fourth-round showing at Wimbledon, rallied to beat Italy’s Tathiana Garbin 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 to match her best U.S. Open effort in four appearances.
Obata, ranked 75th, ousted 35th-ranked Swiss Marie-Gaianeh Mikaelian 7-5, 6-4, to reach the third round for the first time in eight Slams. Together they have made a statement about the state of the sport in their homeland.
“This is so big for Japanese tennis,” Sugiyama said. “I am really happy for them. We are all good friends and we hang out together. We are not that young but we’ve matured lately.
“I am not that surprised at our success actually. We all grew up on hard courts. This is our best surface. The reason we are all doing so well is that we play more tournaments and acquire more experience. Everyone seems to be enjoying being on the tour more.”
Not since retired Kimiko Date, a seven-time WTA champion, has Japan had such a force in the WTA. Tracy Austin, a retired American star, said Asian women’s lack of a power game has kept them from making a bigger charge on tour.
“It’s because of that lack of power,” she said. “Consistency and mental toughness will get you so far but you need that huge weapon to finish things.”
Sugiyama, who won the fourth and biggest WTA title of her career earlier this year at Scottsdale, aided Razzano in the first set with five double faults and 12 unforced errors, but composed herself from there to win.
“It was a pretty tough match,” Sugiyama said. “It was very hot. I was very aggressive from the beginning, but then because of the sun I had a letdown. I found the resources to pull it through. I’m glad I did.”
Sugiyama’s best Slam showing was a 2000 Australian Open quarterfinal run, but she has reached the fourth rounds at the French Open and Wimbledon and can match that achievement here by defeating Australia’s Nicole Pratt on Saturday.
“I mix up the pace quite a bit. I get quite a lot of balls back. That’s the type of game she doesn’t like,” Pratt said of Sugiyama. “She actually feeds off other people’s pace. With me she has to generate her own pace.
“She knows I’m going to stay there all day if I have to. Those type of players, she gets a little nervous about. I feel quite confident going in. I know she’s doing particularly well the last six months. It’ll be a good match.”
Asagoe and Obata will test Grand Slam winners next. Obata will face reigning French Open champion Justin Henin-Hardenne, the second seed from Belgium, while Asagoe will face two-time Slam winner Mary Pierce of France.
“I’m happy with my overall game,” Asagoe said. “It’s going to be great going against a Grand Slam champion. Pierce is a fierce competitor. I’m going to just enjoy my time against her.”
Obata is given little chance against Henin-Hardenne, but that gives her some freedom to go for broke as well.
“I’m playing my best tennis,” Obata said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Justine or anyone else. Of course Justine is one of the top-ranked players, but I will have nothing to lose.”
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