Cibulkova targets Osaka after beating qualifier

"I'm still fighting with jet leg, but it's going to be a tough match (against Osaka)," said Dominika Cibulkova.
"I'm still fighting with jet leg, but it's going to be a tough match (against Osaka)," said Dominika Cibulkova.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO • Naomi Osaka's feat at Flushing Meadows has put a bull's eye on her back and big-hitting Dominika Cibulkova will get the first crack at the newly-crowned US Open champion tomorrow after squeaking into the last 16 of the Pan Pacific Open on Monday.

The Slovakian overcame the effects of jet leg to squeeze past Japanese qualifier Nao Hibino 6-1, 5-7, 6-3, setting up a potential slugfest with Osaka in the world No. 7's first match since becoming her country's maiden Grand Slam singles champion.

"I'm still fighting with jet leg, but it's going to be a tough match (against Osaka)," the 29th-ranked Cibulkova said after a surprisingly competitive first match in Tokyo.

"She has just won a Major so I hope it's going to be packed and I hope for a good match."

Osaka has been on a media whirlwind tour since her ground-breaking achievement just over a week ago. Speaking ahead of the tournament, where she is aiming to go one better after losing to top seed Caroline Wozniacki in the 2016 final, she put her final tears down to shredded nerves and her natural awkwardness, rather than the tantrum thrown by Serena Williams.

The 20-year-old melted hearts when she burst into sobs as boos rang out following her emphatic 6-2, 6-4 thrashing of Williams in a controversial New York final.

But Osaka has refused to blame her childhood idol, who called chair umpire Carlos Ramos a "thief" in an astonishing rant triggered by a code violation for coaching that culminated in a docked game.

NO BITTERNESS

I don't feel like I would've liked to savour the moment more - I do things my own way and everyone is different in their own way so I don't really have any regrets.

NAOMI OSAKA, US Open champion, who does not blame her final opponent Serena Williams for the emotional scenes at Flushing Meadows.

"I feel like there was just a lot of emotions," the 20-year-old said on Monday. "I couldn't really pinpoint it at the time, I just felt very overwhelmed."

The row that erupted between Williams and Ramos polarised opinion and has since sparked a debate about sexism in tennis after the American fumed that the umpire would not have treated a male player in the same fashion.

But Osaka has stayed above the fray, insisting there was no need for the outpouring of sympathy.

"I don't feel like I would've liked to savour the moment more - I do things my own way and everyone is different in their own way so I don't really have any regrets," she added.

Her stardust is set to boost ticket sales for the event, and Osaka fired a warning that she is now a completely different player to the one who lost two years ago. "I'm a little bit more mature now, having that experience helps and being more confident in yourself too," she said.

 
 

Earlier on Monday, Spain's former world No. 1 Garbine Muguruza breezed into the second round, with the sixth seed beating Swiss Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-4.

Defending champion and second-ranked Wozniacki heads the field in the Japanese capital, where the Dane is bidding to win her third successive title and fourth overall.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2018, with the headline 'Cibulkova targets Osaka after beating qualifier'. Print Edition | Subscribe