SINGAPORE - Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber beat US Open champion Naomi Osaka 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 on Wednesday (Oct 24) at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
The victory means Kerber's hopes of progressing to the semi-finals remain alive, while her Japanese opponent's fate depends on the outcome of the second match between Kiki Bertens and Sloane Stephens. Stephens, who defeated Osaka during the first Red Group match on Monday, must win in order for the latter to stay in contention.
World No. 2 Kerber and Osaka exchanged three consecutive breaks of serve to start the match, before the former consolidated the break for a 3-1 lead.
Taking advantage as a visibly frustrated Osaka hit a series of unforced errors, the German then saved five break points and closed it out with a big serve on set point.
World No. 4 Osaka was steadier to start the second set, forcing errors off her opponent's racket to build a 3-1 lead.
But Kerber, known for being one of the best retrievers on tour, did not back down. She rallied to get back on serve, hitting a forehand winner cross court while on the run to earn three break points.
She served for the match at 5-4 after a double fault by Osaka, but the Japanese was not done yet. The US Open champion needed three break points to level the score, doing so with a forehand winner as the crowd roared in delight.
A backhand winner down the line gave Osaka her first set point, and she won the second set after a Kerber forehand found the net.
Osaka had two game points on two occasions in the third set, but ultimately faltered - she hit four straight unforced errors to give Kerber a 5-3 lead.
Kerber, a runner-up here in 2016, then won the 2hr 29min match after surviving a cross-court rally that ended with Osaka hitting a third backhand in a row into the net.
Said a smiling Kerber: "It's so great to be back here in Singapore against such a great opponent, she played unbelievable and I think we both played at a really high level tonight and it's amazing to be playing here.
"I have to say this - thank you guys, it's made it so special to play here. The last time in Singapore so I just try to enjoy playing here as much as I can.
"I think that I started pretty well. In the second set it was really close... I had my chances but she played unbelievably in the important moments and also (in) the third set, I think it was just one or two points which decided the match. It's just great to have such a match done and playing another match in two days so it feels great."
The 30-year-old, the oldest among the eight singles players here, noted it would mean a lot to lift the Billie Jean King trophy, but emphasised that there is still a "long, long way" to go.
"You have to focus here on every single match and every single set and just try to push yourself until the limit," she said. "It's the last tournament of the year and we just try to play our best tennis, all eight of us."
In the second match of the night, American Stephens beat Bertens 7-6 (7-4), 2-6, 6-3.