New York – Naomi Osaka spiked her racket after one errant forehand late in the second set at the U.S. Open, then flung it the length of the baseline after a missed backhand return ceded that tiebreaker.
Sometimes, that’s the sort of reaction it takes to right things for Osaka. And, perhaps surprisingly, she needed whatever push she could get in this third-round match.
Facing an opponent competing in just her second major tournament, two-time Grand Slam champion Osaka eventually figured out a way to turn a tight one into a runaway and beat 18-year-old Marta Kostyuk 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 6-2 by claiming the final five games Friday at Flushing Meadows.
“While I was playing, honestly, I was cursing myself out,” Osaka said during an on-court interview afterward, “so you wouldn’t want to know what I was saying.”
Still, she improved to 7-0 since tennis resumed after a hiatus of more than five months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Angelique Kerber, the 2016 champion, also moved into the fourth round Friday, defeating 20-year-old Ann Li 6-3, 6-4. Kerber’s next opponent is 28th-seeded Jennifer Brady, a 6-3, 6-3 winner against Caroline Garcia.
In the previous round, Garcia upset top-seeded Karolina Pliskova.
With shadows creeping across the Arthur Ashe Stadium court in the early afternoon, the 137th-ranked Kostyuk certainly had her chances to pull off a significant surprise, too.
The key moment came when Kostyuk held five break points that could have given her a 3-1 lead in the final set.
Osaka fended off every one and held to 2-all before beginning her match-closing run.
“I’m kind of scared how she’s going to be in the future,” said Osaka, who played with tape wrapping her left hamstring, which has been a problem since last week. “She has no fear.”
Kostyuk had her own issues, twice taking a medical timeout to have a trainer tape her right ankle.
But she also was able to control the outcomes of points for stretches, winning 19 of the 23 points when she went to the net. The Ukrainian teen also delivered more winners than Osaka, 36-30, over the match’s 2 1/2 hours.
“For me, I just feel like I had so many points that I didn’t capitalize on,” Osaka said, acknowledging she was “too passive” sometimes.
Before and after the match, Osaka wore a mask bearing the name of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was fatally shot after being pursued by armed white men in Georgia.
Each time on court during the tournament, Osaka is wearing a different mask in memory of a victim of racial injustice.
“None of these deaths had to happen,” Osaka said. “For me, I just want everyone to know the names more.”