Karolina Pliskova has accomplished what 10 others have tried and failed to do over the past month: beat Naomi Osaka.
The hard-serving Czech spoiled the party in front of a decidedly pro-Osaka crowd in Tokyo on Sunday, taking the Toray Pan Pacific Open title with a 6-4, 6-4 win over her Japanese opponent.
Pliskova’s win ends an incredible September run by Osaka that saw her take the U.S. Open and roar through the Pan Pacific draw without dropping a set as the buzz over her grand slam win reverberated across the country.
That buzz and her newfound superstardom in the wake of her triumph in New York appeared to finally take its toll on Sunday in front of a partisan crowd that did everything they could to will her back into the match.
Osaka admitted in her postmatch news conference to feeling “overwhelmed” and “stressed.”
“I can’t say I’m used to” the attention, she told reporters. “Things have been going so fast since New York. I haven’t really been able to sit back and see what’s fully been going on. I think for me, the main thing is I felt very overwhelmed today.”
She called coach Sascha Bajin onto the court for a pep talk once, midway through the second set.
“I already knew what I was doing wrong but for whatever reason I couldn’t fix it so I don’t think calling Sascha would have helped that much,” she said when asked why she didn’t call him earlier.
“The time that I called him was just for a talk, just for me to not feel as stressed out as I was and it did help a little bit.”
Speaking a little over an hour after the conclusion of the match, Osaka admitted she was still processing the week’s events.
“To play the finals at the U.S. Open and then come here, I did pretty well … I’m proud of myself,” she said.
Bajin shared a similar sentiment.
“I’m still very proud of her for what she’s achieved this week. It might not have been the end result that we wanted, but I know it’s very tough on players especially after winning such a big title. You sometimes fall into a dip but she really maintained her focus,” he said.
Both players dominated on serve throughout the opening set, but while Pliskova capitalized on her only break opportunity, Osaka failed to even push her Czech opponent to deuce.
At 2-2, Osaka had a brief lapse on her serve, allowing Pliskova to pounce and earn the only break she would need in the opening frame.
The serving clinic continued from both sides of the net in the second set until 4-4 when, once again, it was Osaka who blinked. A string of errors, including a double fault, put her behind 0-40. Pliskova didn’t waste any time in completing the break, ripping a forehand winner after a failed Osaka drop shot.
Pliskova finished the match off in fitting form with a hold at love that included a pair of aces.
“I was just trying to serve well and mix the speed a little bit,” Pliskova said.
“I didn’t want to try and overpower her because I think she has a little bit more power than me. So I wanted to be patient and just wait for my chances.”
Osaka held a slim 7-6 advantage in aces but managed to win just 12 points on the Pliskova serve. Pliskova made a staggering 81 percent of her first serves, winning 79 percent of those points while giving Osaka few opportunities to get into rallies.
“I think she played really well. She served really well,” Osaka said. “I just made so many unforced errors.”
The loss marked the second time Osaka has come up short in the finals of her home tournament, having fallen to Caroline Wozniacki in 2016 as an 18-year-old.
Osaka is scheduled to play in next week’s Wuhan Open in China but admitted she may give the tournament a pass —”I’ve literally never felt more tired,” she said — meaning her next match action might not come until the China Open, scheduled to start Oct. 1.
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