BIRMINGHAM • World No. 1 Naomi Osaka succumbed to a straight-sets defeat by Yulia Putintseva in the round of 16 at the Birmingham Classic yesterday, handing Ashleigh Barty the chance to end the week on top of the rankings.
The Japanese star admitted ahead of her first grass-court tournament of the season that she is still not at home on the surface and it showed, as the Kazakhstani romped to a 6-2, 6-3 win.
The US and Australian Open champion now runs the risk of heading into Wimbledon short of match practice on grass as she has not signed up to play in Eastbourne next week.
Putintseva made a blistering start to go 5-0 up in the first set and Osaka's troubles on serve throughout the match ensured she never recovered. Osaka dropped serve at the start of the second set. She fought back to lead 3-2 before Putintseva won the last four games to close out the match in a little over an hour.
French Open champion Barty can secure the No. 1 position by winning the title in Birmingham and she eased into the quarter-finals with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Jennifer Brady yesterday.
Only the rain threatened to slow the Australian as it delayed the start of the match and then briefly interrupted the second set. However, Barty was too focused and too good for her American opponent and made it nine wins in a row after claiming her maiden Grand Slam title in Paris earlier this month.
Barty could face five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams in the last eight today should the 39-year-old see off sixth seed Wang Qiang of China.
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic shrugged off Nick Kyrgios' characterisation of him as "cringe-worthy" and "having an obsession with wanting to be liked" but insisted that the Australian firebrand is in fact a good guy.
Kyrgios, more often in the headlines for what he says off court than what he achieves on it, described world No. 1 Djokovic as desperate to be held in the same high esteem as Swiss great and 20-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer.
Djokovic, the 15-time Slam champion who will be defending his title at Wimbledon next month, said these remarks "don't keep him awake at night".
He said in Belgrade: "I think that basically he is a good guy...
"He wants apparently to be true, open, transparent, that is part of his character. I respect him.
"Does he show me respect to the extent that others do? No, he does not. That's just his way of communicating."