Teenage sensation Naomi Osaka claimed her biggest scalp to date after beating world No. 12 Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 6-1 on Wednesday to reach the quarterfinals of the Pan Pacific Open.
Eighteen-year-old Osaka, whose appearance and playing style have drawn comparisons with her idol Serena Williams, lost the first two games at Ariake Colosseum but woke up with a vengeance as she took the next six games in a row to claim the first set in dominating fashion.
World No. 66 Osaka again dropped serve in the opening game of the second set but soon got back into her rhythm, pulverizing her sixth-seeded Slovakian opponent to close out the match in 1 hour, 3 minutes with her seventh ace of the afternoon.
Osaka’s only previous wins against top-20 players came against Sara Errani and Samantha Stosur, at the time ranked Nos. 18 and 19, respectively.
“I feel like I knew more about her than she knew about me so I just stuck to the plan and managed to win,” said Osaka, who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father and moved to the United States at the age of three.
“I never really care too much about people’s rankings. I knew she was seeded but I didn’t look at her exact rank. Of course I’m really happy, it’s just my face doesn’t show it. I went out there with a plan and I’m really happy that it worked. I wasn’t going to back down the whole match. If I were to win or lose, I was just going to play like that so I’m happy it worked.”
Osaka, who beat Japanese No. 1 Misaki Doi in straight sets in the first round, will play either U.S. Open finalist Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic — ranked No. 6 in the world — or Belarusian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the quarterfinals.
Osaka reached the third round of the U.S. Open earlier this month but lost 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7-3) to American Madison Keys despite leading 5-1 in the decisive third set.
The teenager took a similarly commanding lead against Cibulkova on Wednesday but fell into a 0-40 hole while serving for the match.
“I felt really nervous at the start of the match, and then closing out the first set,” said Osaka, who described her U.S. Open meltdown as a “mental collapse.”
“I was fine in the second set until 5-1, and then I just got a horrible flashback to the U.S. Open. That was a nightmare. I managed to close this one out so I’m very happy.
“Honestly I thought I was going to lose the game at 5-1 because I heard it was 0-40. I was prepared for anything but I just wanted to try really hard to see what would happen. Somehow I managed to get it to deuce.”
Osaka got off to the worst possible start when she lost the opening game on serve to love, but recovered to put in a performance that showcased her precision as well as her ferocious power.
“I didn’t think I could beat her just by smacking everything as hard as I could,” said Osaka, who joked that she was thinking about eating Korean barbecue throughout the match. “I knew she was going to hit drop shots because I watched the last match and I was ready for that.”
Cibulkova, a finalist at the 2014 Australian Open, won only one of her own service games and admitted that Osaka was always one step ahead of her.
“It was pretty difficult for me today,” said Cibulkova, who was facing Osaka for the first time. “She was playing really well, she was reading my serve well and I wasn’t able to make any changes. I can’t say I played good tennis today but it wasn’t like I played really badly. She played really well and it was really hard for me on the court.
“Obviously she has great potential with her body and the way she hits the ball. Even now she’s very dangerous. But I can’t tell. She’s the only person who can do it.”
Earlier in the day, Olympic champion Monica Puig of Puerto Rico recovered from a set down to beat seventh seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic — the 2013 champion — 1-6, 6-4, 6-4.
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