TOKYO • Former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova catapulted herself into contention for the women's tennis season-ender in Singapore after stunning Japan's Naomi Osaka in straight sets to win the Pan Pacific Open yesterday.
The fourth seed took just 63 minutes to complete a clinical 6-4, 6-4 victory to halt US Open champion Osaka's 10-match winning streak.
"I'm just happy it didn't go to three sets," said the Czech, who had been taken the distance in her previous three matches.
Pliskova was relatively comfortable against Osaka, who had been in blistering form and had yet to drop a set going into the final, and her serve constantly put the first Japanese to win a Major singles title on the back foot.
"My serve is my biggest weapon and it was key today," she added.
"Naomi was maybe a little bit tired, you could see that. But the future is bright for her and congrats to her for an incredible few weeks."
Pliskova's 11th WTA title took her past Kiki Bertens into the eighth and final qualifying place for the Porsche Race to Singapore. The Dutchwoman stayed in contention with a 7-6 (7-2), 4-6, 6-2 win over Australian Ajla Tomljanovic in the Korea Open final yesterday.
Naomi Osaka's winning streak ends at 10, including seven matches at the US Open that she won earlier this month.
The BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global will be played at the Singapore Indoor Stadium from Oct 21 to 28.
World No. 1 Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber are the only two who have secured their spots.
Pliskova and Osaka had split their previous two meetings, but the hometown hero started the Tokyo meeting as the favourite after her historic New York triumph.
The Japanese third seed, who was hoping to go a step further after reaching the final in 2016, began in menacing fashion.
PORSCHE RACE TO SINGAPORE
1 Simona Halep * (Rou) 6,911pts
2 Angelique Kerber * (Ger) 5,153
3 Naomi Osaka (Jpn) 4,351
4 Petra Kvitova (Cze) 4,250
5 Caroline Wozniacki (Den) 3,983
6 Elina Svitolina (Ukr) 3,841
7 Sloane Stephens (USA) 3,824
8 Karolina Pliskova (Cze) 3,601
9 Kiki Bertens (Ned) 3,532
10 Elise Mertens (Bel) 3,080 * Qualified. Top eight qualify for WTA Finals in Singapore.
She thumped an ace down the middle on the first point and held her first two service games to love.
But Pliskova slowly turned the screw and broke for 3-2 with a fizzing backhand which her opponent swished well wide. The world No. 8 was soon a set up after unleashing another brutal drive catching No. 7 Osaka flat-footed.
The 20-year-old, looked at a loss for ideas against Pliskova, six years her senior, and buried her head in a towel during the changeover.
Things barely improved in the second set. Osaka whacked her racket against her sneakers in anger at her wastefulness and, as the strain began to show, she called for her coach Sascha Bajin before groaning: "I feel so stressed out."
Sensing blood, Pliskova broke for 5-4 and, moments later, delivered the coup de grace with a sixth ace Osaka barely wafted her racket at.
For Pliskova, it was a first tournament victory since Stuttgart in April - and the first since marrying long-time partner Michal Hrdlicka in the summer.
"The first one this year was before the wedding," she said. "I'm just happy that I also have a title as a married woman."
In contrast, a tearful Osaka could barely bring herself to speak at the trophy presentation.
"I've never felt more tired in my entire life," she said, admitting that a much-needed rest was in order.
"The chances of me playing in the next tournament are very low."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS