No pressure in Japan for US Open champ Osaka

Japan's Naomi Osaka hitting a return against Barbora Strycova in the Pan Pacific Open quarter-finals. The US Open champion was not at her best but still won 6-3, 6-4.
Japan's Naomi Osaka hitting a return against Barbora Strycova in the Pan Pacific Open quarter-finals. The US Open champion was not at her best but still won 6-3, 6-4.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO • Naomi Osaka and Camila Giorgi have never faced each other but the Japanese will have no fear of the unknown, given the way she is tearing through her opponents at the moment.

Osaka, who has yet to drop a set in Tokyo, exuded a major champion's aura yesterday in dispatching Barbora Strycova 6-3, 6-4 to reach today's Pan Pacific Open semi-finals despite being nowhere near her best.

The 20-year-old, who stunned Serena Williams to capture the US Open title this month to become the first Japanese to win a Grand Slam, was stuck in second gear against her Czech opponent unlike that historic night in New York.

But the world No. 7 and third seed still had too much firepower for Strycova and will face Italy's Giorgi, who advanced after former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus was forced to retire injured while trailing 5-3.

Eighth seed Strycova had little answer to her opponent's venomous hitting and Osaka bagged the first set with a sledgehammer forehand that almost tore the racket from the world No. 25's hand.

Osaka, contesting her first tournament since her historic feat at Flushing Meadows, never looked back against a player 12 years her senior, and extended her current winning streak to nine matches.

"I've played her three times and each time, it's been very hard," said Osaka, who reached the Tokyo final in 2016 and is aiming to go one better this time round after top seed and defending champion Caroline Wozniacki's last-16 upset by Giorgi on Thursday.

"I don't feel any extra pressure playing in Japan. I've improved a lot of things in the last few years and I feel excited playing here."

Earlier, fourth seed Karolina Pliskova saved two match points before the former world No. 1 ended American qualifier Alison Riske's run 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-4).

The Czech, who smashed a racket in disgust after squandering multiple chances at 5-5 in the deciding set, completed a "lucky win" with a sliced backhand that Riske wafted into the net.

Pliskova faces Croatia's Donna Vekic in the other semi-final today after she beat second-seeded Caroline Garcia of France 6-3, 6-4.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

PAN PACIFIC OPEN

S-finals: StarHub Ch203, 11am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2018, with the headline 'No pressure in Japan for US Open champ Osaka'. Print Edition | Subscribe