Naomi Osaka has returned to the fourth round of the Australian Open for the third time in four years after seeing off Ons Jabeur in an entertaining clash at John Cain Arena.
The AO 2019 champion completed a 6-3 6-2 victory over the Tunisian trailblazer – her 17th match win in a row – to set up a mouth-watering clash with Garbine Muguruza.
Osaka and Muguruza have combined for five Grand Slam singles titles and are two of the biggest stars in women’s tennis – but have never played each other.
“I've practiced with her once … I just remember being really impressed by her, and for me, I've watched her win Wimbledon and win the French Open, and I've always wanted to have the chance to play her,” Osaka said of the Spaniard.
“So for me, this is really exciting.”
After Muguruza routed Zarina Diyas in just 56 minutes earlier on Friday, Osaka ensured a blockbuster match-up with the Spaniard after seeing off the tricky challenge of Jabeur.
She has now beaten a trio of quality opponents in Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Caroline Garcia and Jabeur for the collective loss of just 13 games.
Jabeur, who at Australian Open 2020 became the first Arab women to advance to a Grand Slam quarterfinal, possessed the weaponry and versatility to make this a competitive affair with the reigning US Open champion.
In the early stages of the opening set, it was indeed just that.
With both women playing aggressively and using all of the court, Osaka and Jabeur combined for 15 winners before the first three games were complete.
Jabeur gave Osaka fits in the Japanese’s first three service games, which each extending to multiple deuces and Osaka having to stave off break points – five in total – in each one.
But frequently, an ace or a powerful strike got her out of trouble.
And it was as if the frustration of failing to convert those opportunities eventually wore on Jabeur, who surrendered serve in the very next game as errors leaked from her racquet.
Osaka played an error-prone game of her own to hand the break straight back, but she broke again for a 5-3 lead and then yanked Jabeur all over the court with her powerful drives in the next game, forcing errors to close out the first set.
Osaka is an excellent frontrunner and, true to form, improved in the second set as her confidence grew and her game flowed.
In the third game, she played a forehand winner for 0-30, and a few point later delivered a lunging forehand return that scorched past Jabeur to break for a 2-1 lead.
By the time she slammed an ace and a forehand winner to take a 3-1 lead, she had doubled Jabeur’s winner count at 22-11.
There were occasional bright spots for Jabeur, who slotted five aces, drilled five forehand winners and won five-of-five net points. But the world No.30 was mostly beaten for pace and rushed for time, and rarely looked comfortable, finishing the match with 33 unforced errors.
Osaka completed the match in emphatic style with a hold at love.
“Today was really tough for me because I didn't know what to expect,” the AO2019 champion said. “I just thought I fought really well, and for me that's the biggest thing I can take away from the match.
“I was kind of more excited than anything to play her because I always watch her play on TV, and it looks really fun. Like her shot choices, I would never do them, but it looks fun to watch.
“Just having that variety in the game, I'm glad that everyone doesn't play the same."