Rising teenage star Naomi Osaka reached her first-ever semifinal on the WTA Tour after conquering her demons in a 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) win over Belarusian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich at the Pan Pacific Open on Friday.
Eighteen-year-old Osaka, who toppled world No. 12 Dominika Cibulkova in the previous round, broke world No. 107 Sasnovich three times to take the first set at Ariake Colosseum but was left hurling her racket and staring up at the roof in frustration after falling into an 0-5 hole in the second.
But the Japanese world No. 66 refound her rhythm in devastating style to take the next five games in succession, before fending off two set points in a tiebreaker to set up a semifinal showdown with Ukrainian world No. 20 Elina Svitolina on Saturday.
“I feel like if I play like I envisage myself to play, then I feel like I would do well at all the tournaments,” said Osaka, who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father and moved to the United States at the age of 3. “I’m always learning and gaining experience, so I’m really happy that my first semi is here.
“She’s a really good player and we both had our ups and downs in the second set, and I’m the one that managed to win.”
Sasnovich stunned U.S. Open finalist and world No. 6 Karolina Pliskova to reach the quarterfinals, but Osaka had too much for the Belrusian to handle despite the Japanese teen landing only 36 percent of first serves in the first set.
Things quickly began to unravel for Osaka in the second set, however, as Sasnovich, who managed to win only one of her service games in the first set, jumped out to a 5-0 lead.
“Honestly, I was just focusing on playing the shots more than caring about the result,” said Osaka. “By then it was already 5-0 so I was just going through the motions. I didn’t really expect to get to 5-5. I was just focusing on playing more than the score.”
A string of unstoppable winners from Osaka took the set to a tiebreaker, but Sasnovich again gained the upper hand and looked on the brink of evening the match with two set points at 6-4.
But Osaka reduced the deficit to one point before Sasnovich double-faulted twice to hand match point to her opponent, and Osaka emphatically replied with her fourth ace of the match to close out the victory.
“I was playing very good until 5-0 and then I think I lost concentration and Osaka played better,” said Sasnovich. “I had chances, but it’s tennis.
“I tried to play aggressive. I tried to attack with my first serve but my first serve was not so good today. I think maybe that’s the reason why I played just two sets and not three.”
Osaka will face Svitolina in the semifinal after the Ukrainian upset Spanish top seed Garbine Muguruza 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.
“Right now I’m not really thinking about it (the semifinal),” said Osaka, who is bidding to become the tournament’s first Japanese winner since Kimiko Date-Krumm in 1995.
“Honestly, I just wanted to do well and I think semis is pretty good. So I’m just going to try to get to the final and focus on my next match.”
Defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska also moved into the semifinals with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Rio Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig.
Polish world No. 4 Radwanska, who also claimed the title in 2011, hammered home eight aces to dispatch her Puerto Rican opponent in 1 hour, 16 minutes and set up a clash with former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.
“I wish I had that serve in every match, but it’s not that easy,” said Radwanska, the No. 2 seed who reached the Tokyo semifinals for a fifth time in eight appearances. “Of course I was serving very good today and that helped me a lot, that’s for sure. Hopefully I can serve like this in the next match as well.”
Radwanska will face Wozniacki after the Dane beat Polish qualifier Magda Linette 6-4, 6-3.
Wozniacki, who held the world No. 1 spot for 67 weeks between 2010-11, has seen her ranking slip to 28 after missing this year’s French Open through injury, but is returning to form after reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Open earlier this month.
“I rate her as a top-10 player, even when she has dropped her ranking a little bit,” said Radwanska, who has beaten Wozniacki only four times in 12 meetings.
“She’s coming back and playing really good tennis for the last couple of months. We all need to be careful with those kind of players who are not seeded. Of course this is a semifinal but she is also feeling good here, she is playing very good here in Tokyo.
“I just hope it’s going to be a really good match.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.