BEIJING – Naomi Osaka overcame her emotions to roar back and defeat unseeded Zhang Shuai 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 in a roller-coaster China Open quarterfinal on Friday.
The 20-year-old U.S. Open champion was broken on her first two service games and had tears in her eyes as the match threatened to slip away in the second set.
But the world No. 6 gathered herself and — although she continued to look glum and flung her racket about — found the resolve to pull through over three nail-biting sets.
Osaka will face unseeded Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova, who defeated Slovak Dominika Cibulkova 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) later in the afternoon, in the final four.
The 45th-ranked Zhang — with the Beijing crowd on her side — raced into an early lead against an unusually erratic Osaka, who had won 24 of her previous 28 games.
The eighth seed, who stunned Serena Williams to win her maiden Grand Slam last month in New York, belatedly began finding some range.
But she continued to rack up errors and conceded the first set when she hit into the net. She went on to make 66 unforced errors in all.
The 29-year-old Zhang, who has won two career WTA singles titles, saved six break points to take the lead in the second set.
Zhang broke to go 2-0 up and Osaka — who has admitted struggling with the fall-out from the U.S. Open final, when Williams rowed with the chair umpire — began welling up.
But Osaka defied her emotions to avoid the upset, although she barely raised a smile even in victory.
“(Zhang)’s such an incredible player and she’s really sweet. It was really hard to play against her here,” Osaka said in a post-match interview. “I’m just thinking one match at a time, and I know it can only get harder from here.
“Especially by the way (Zhang) played, I know everyone wants to play really well.”
In the men’s quarterfinals, the Italian Fabio Fognini continued his march toward a fourth title of the season with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Marton Fucsovics of Hungary.
On Thursday, German prodigy Alexander Zverev smashed his racket in frustration after he was the victim of a surprise three-set defeat to world No. 61 Malek Jaziri.
With his coach Ivan Lendl looking on stony-faced, Zverev exited in the last 16 in Beijing, with the indefatigable Tunisian Jaziri winning 7-6 (7-4), 2-6, 6-4.
Zverev, the 21-year-old second seed touted as a future multiple Grand Slam winner, reacted by whacking his racket on the floor, bending it badly out of shape.
He then dished out more punishment, flinging it at his courtside chair as he trudged toward the locker room.