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Naomi Osaka cruises into Pan Pacific Open final

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Naomi Osaka had punched her ticket for the Toray Pan Pacific Open final and fielded questions from the media about 10 minutes. Now, she had a question of her own. “Um, what is that on your phone?” she asked Ichika Shingyo from Nippon Broadcasting System, Inc.

The phone decoration in question was a cellphone strap toy featuring a variant design of Giorno Giovanna, a character from the anime “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.”

There was nothing bizarre about Osaka’s path, that adventure has been about as straight forward as it gets. As a matter of fact, she hasn’t been on the court too long either.

The recently crowned U.S. Open champion used a booming serve and a strong all-around performance to earn a brisk 6-2, 6-3 victory over Italy’s Camila Giorgi in a semifinal match that took 1 hour and 10 minutes.

“I knew coming into the match that she was going to play well,” Osaka said. “So I basically felt like I was trying to survive that match.”

She’ll meet former No. 1, and current No. 8, Karolina Pliskova in the final.

“I’ve played Pliskova twice already, once this year and once last year, and I know that she’s a great player,” Osaka said. “She has basically every shot and she has really good serves. So I know that it’s going to be a very difficult match.”

Pliskova reached the final courtesy of a hard-fought 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Donna Vekic in Saturday’s other semifinal.

“I think she’s having a very good run, by winning the U.S. Open and now getting into the final.” Pliskova said of Osaka. “For sure, she has to feel very confident.

“I saw a little bit of her match. She’s playing well. She’s hitting the ball, she’s serving well. It’s not going to be easy.”

Osaka dominated Giorgi with her serve, which was overwhelming for many stretches.

She hit nine aces during the match. She served three straight during the sixth game of the first set. Giorgi got her racket on Osaka’s fourth serve, but her shot sailed out, giving Osaka the game.

Osaka also won four of her seven break-point opportunities and faced none. She won 81 percent of her total service points.

“I think I played a pretty solid match,” Osaka said. “Off the top of my head, I guess I could improve my returning.”

Giorgi helped dig her own grave with mistakes, including eight double faults.

Osaka has been on a roll as of late. She’s won 10 straight matches since her last loss, against Maria Sakkari in round of 64 at the Cincinnati Open, a stretch that includes her win over Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final on Sept. 8. She hasn’t dropped a set during the PPO.

“I felt really good coming into the tournament and playing my matches,” Osaka said. “Today was the first match that I felt nervous. Other than that, I think I’ve been playing well and I’ve been trying to set little goals for myself. Because I know if you set a really high goal then normally, for me at least, I tend to overwhelm myself.”

Pliskova was in control early in her match, taking the first set in just under 30 minutes. She had a 3-1 advantage in the second set when the momentum shifted.

Vekic held serve in the next game and earned a break to tie it 3-3. She took three of the next four games, shouting “come on” after winners, to take the set.

Neither player could hold serve in the first three games of the third set, with Pliskova breaking Vekic twice to take a 2-1 advantage.

Pliskova held serve to win the next game and, after Vekic pulled to 3-2, finished on the right side of a few long rallies to go on to win the match.

“Somehow, I lost a little bit of my concentration,” Pliskova said. “I started to feel more tired, I felt my legs a little bit. But she also played some good shots. It’s always both sides. But I was just happy I could come back in the third one, to forget about the second set, because I just think I was missing too much. I did a quick break for 2-1 in the third set and that was enough to close it.”

Pliskova knows Osaka is going to have the home-crowd advantage tomorrow and is ready for it.

“Of course, but to be honest, I don’t think Japanese fans are that noisy,” she joked. “Believe me, I’ve experienced worse crowds than here. I’m just ready for it. Of course, they’re going to cheer for her. We are in Japan.

If she comes to Czech (Republic), people are going to be on my side. That’s normal, but it’s not something I’m scared of. I’m OK with that, I accept that. The crowd is not going to win you a match. We both have to still play tennis.”