Third time lucky for Osaka in Osaka

Naomi Osaka enjoying herself during her Pan Pacific Open victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. It is the Japanese's first title since the 2018 Australian Open.
Naomi Osaka enjoying herself during her Pan Pacific Open victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. It is the Japanese's first title since the 2018 Australian Open. PHOTO: REUTERS

OSAKA • The last eight months have been turbulent for Naomi Osaka, to say the least.

In the wake of her second straight Grand Slam triumph at the Australian Open in January, she split with coaches Sascha Bajin and Jermaine Jenkins and admitted to depression as her form took a big dip, failing to get pass the fourth round of the other three Majors.

But, after overwhelming Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-3 to lift her first title on home soil yesterday, becoming the first Japanese player to win the Pan Pacific Open title since Kimiko Date in 1995, Osaka was all smiles, calling her feat "really special".

It was the third time lucky for the former world No. 1, who was runner-up in 2016 and last year, and her first title since Melbourne Park.

Osaka, though, at no point looked like a player struggling to get it together, storming through the tournament without dropping a set.

Later, she credited her hometown for boosting her confidence, saying: "This is the city where I was born and that gave me a lot of power to play match after match.

"I have played finals here. This is my third time. So I am really glad that I was able to win.

HOMETOWN BOOST

This is the city where I was born and that gave me a lot of power to play match after match.

NAOMI OSAKA , tennis' world No. 4, on winning the Pan Pacific Open in Osaka.

"My serves have been doing really well the last two matches. That definitely helped me out, especially today since she (Pavlyuchenkova) is such a great returner.

"I love playing here and see you all next year."

Her 41st-ranked opponent had no answer to the world No. 4's powerful and precise serving as she won 100 per cent of the points when her first serve was successful, battering down four aces.

Osaka also avenged her defeat in their only previous meeting, when Pavlyuchenkova beat the top seed in straight sets en route to the 2017 Hong Kong Open title.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2019, with the headline 'Third time lucky for Osaka in Osaka'. Print Edition | Subscribe