Tennis

Naomi Osaka advances to Pan Pacific Open final

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

Naomi Osaka beat Elise Mertens of Belgium on Saturday to reach the final of the Pan Pacific Open, thrilling her Japanese fans in the city of her birth.

Top seed Osaka dispatched No. 9 seed Mertens 6-4, 6-1 to reach her first final since winning the Australian Open.

The pair both held their serves for the first set until Osaka broke Mertens in the 10th game.

Osaka, 21, rounded into form in the second, and after the pair traded early breaks, won the last four games of the match to sprint to victory in just over an hour.

“It’s been kind of rough like the past couple of months so I’m really glad that I made it to the final,” she said.

She tried to stay calm because the 23-year-old Belgian player is “an amazing player and it’s so hard to hit her balls,” she said.

Earlier in the day, Osaka saw off Yulia Putintseva in straight sets in a delayed match was rained out on Friday , even as she was tricked at times by the Kazakh player’s slices and drop shots.

“For me, I learned a lot from when I played her at Wimbledon, and I know that a hard court is where I feel most comfortable,” Osaka told reporters after beating Putintseva.

In her two previous Pan Pacific finals, Osaka lost to Caroline Wozniacki and Karolina Pliskova in Tokyo in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

Misaki Doi, whose quarterfinal against Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was suspended on Friday in the first set, fell 6-2, 6-2 after play was resumed on Saturday.

Her challenger in the final will be Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, 28, who ousted former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-3, 6-3.