Osaka relishes battle of '97 generation with Bencic

LOS ANGELES • While world No. 1 Naomi Osaka has never played Belinda Bencic on the WTA Tour, she considers her fourth-round Indian Wells opponent to be "a star". The duo had passed through the developmental circuit at the same time.

After powering past American Danielle Collins 6-4, 6-2 to book a meeting with the resurgent Swiss today, the defending champion told the WTA website of their past history.

Recalling her loss to Bencic at last year's Hopman Cup, the Japanese, who is seeking her first title defence, said: "That's really amazing, the fact that she was able to come back from her injury and still play at a really top level.

"The last time we played, I hit too many unforced errors. But that was in the beginning of 2018 when you guys didn't know who I was."

Bencic was the youngest woman to break into the top 10 since 2009 when she made the list in February 2016 as an 18-year-old, but a litany of injuries has stalled her progress.

The 23rd seed, who beat Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-4, 6-2, appears to have solved her problems after stunning two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in Dubai last month to capture her first WTA title in four years.

Bencic, who is born in the same year as Osaka, is keen to make up for lost time and show that the '97 generation is "so strong".

She said: "I always like to play on the big courts, I like to play the big players. I really enjoy that and that's what I work for. I'm just super happy to be on the big court. We try to push each other… always one of us is doing well.

"Sometimes, success, everybody has their own timing."

In the men's draw, an ailing Alexander Zverev, who has never advanced to the quarter-finals, was sent packing after losing his third-round match to fellow German Jan-Lennard Struff 6-3, 6-1.

"I have been sick for a week. That hasn't changed unfortunately," said the world No. 3.

"I just got unlucky, got a virus somewhere and that's how it is."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2019, with the headline 'Osaka relishes battle of '97 generation with Bencic'. Print Edition | Subscribe