Osaka advances against wily Sevastova

  • Dan Imhoff

Naomi Osaka is one win from breaking a 13-year first-time slam winner’s curse after holding off Latvian Anastasija Sevastova to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals on Monday.

The 21-year-old sensation became just the second woman of the past 15 maiden slam victors to reach the quarterfinals at her subsequent major with the 4-6 6-3 6-4 triumph.

And a win for the fourth seed over Ukrainian No.6 seed Elina Svitolina would make her the first woman since Kim Clijsters at Australian Open 2006 to progress beyond the quarterfinals in that subsequent slam.

There was plenty to be proud of in the wake of surviving a second crafty opponent in succession, having stormed back against Su-Wei Hsieh in the previous round.

“I think the biggest thing for me is the belief,” Osaka said. “I think I believe in myself more this year than I have last year. Like in Brisbane, I played the same sort of match, like, I lost the first set and I managed to win again. And it was against the same player. So I think just having that experience.”

The wily Sevastova relied on her exceptional court coverage and variety of pace to frustrate the more erratic Osaka early on, breaking in the third game and carrying the advantage to claim the opening set.

If Osaka was going to dig her way out of this one she would have to emulate her comeback win over Sevastova in the Brisbane quarterfinals leading in.

The Japanese No.4 seed knew she needed a more patient approach in the second set, working her way into points before pulling the trigger.

She grabbed her chance with back-to-back winners to break for 4-2 before the standard lifted a notch as both women exchanged winners destined for the highlights reels when Osaka was serving for the set.

The 21-year-old claimed a searching rally with a lunge-volley winner to stave off break point and levelled the contest at the 62-minute mark, finishing the set with 18 winners.

“I feel like during the first set, I might have tried to over-hit or she was returning a lot of balls,” Osaka said. “So I thought I had to go for more than I did.

Sevastova's exceptional court coverage kept Osaka on her toes

“In the second and third set, I calmed down and I tried to think that I should play within my boundaries.”

Sevastova was no stranger to the second week at slams, having reached the semifinals and two quarterfinals at her past three US Opens, but as this battle wore on, it was Osaka whose game was lifting and Sevastova emotionally unravelling.

Osaka closed out the showdown with a blinding forehand down the line, her 51st winner of the match.

51 Naomi Osaka
22 Anastasija Sevastova

“I was watching all these kids winning and saw Tsitsipas beat Federer last night and was like ‘whoa’,” Osaka said. “I was watching him and also Tiafoe, they were playing really well. They came out here against the top players and won. I wanted to do that as well.”

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With Tiafoe watching Osaka’s fourth-round efforts from the stands, it is clear that inspiration is mutual.