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Osaka blunts Hsieh after big scare

  • Suzi Petkovski

The women’s game has crowned eight different Grand Slam champions in the last eight majors – unprecedented in the Open era. Naomi Osaka stayed on course to break that streak, surviving 5-7 6-4 6-1 against Su-Wei Hsieh on Saturday.

The US Open champion turned on a barrage of big hitting from 7-5 3-0 down against upset specialist Hsieh, powering home with 41 winners to her crafty opponent’s 28.

The lightly built Hsieh, coached by former AO tournament director Paul McNamee, who was courtside, took out Garbine Muguruza here a year ago and stunned No.1 Simona Halep at Wimbledon.

For the first hour, the 33-year-old threatened to do the same to Osaka, bamboozling the 21-year-old heavy hitter with her special assortment of double-handed deception, dinks, drop shots and invitations to over-hit.

The slightly built Taiwanese seems to be armed with a butterfly net rather than a racquet, ensnaring opponents and draining them of confidence. You are not just required to win a tennis match against Hsieh but solve a confounding riddle.

Midway in the second set, Osaka was still struggling to do just that. At 4-2 down she tried a change-up lob, only for Hsieh to blast a backhand winner. The No.4 seed let out a laugh. It was a like that for Osaka – laugh or cry.

But the Japanese refused to be mentally beaten, and had the courage to hit out when all looked lost. Osaka has a 20-2 record in majors against players outside the top 20. Hsieh, ranked 27, would not be loss No.3.

Osaka’s fire recalled her three-setter against Aryna Sabalenka at the US Open – the only time she was taken the distance in New York. Animated and fighting hard, Osaka smashed through Hsieh’s defences with a series of big forehands to break for 3-4. It was part of a sequence of seven straight games for the Japanese star that carried her to 2-0 in the deciding set.

MORE: AO2019 women’s singles results

Now Hsieh was reeling. The match had been hers to lose at 7-5 4-1. She was reacting rather than inventing. Would-be winners were fading just wide of the lines and devilish drop shots were few and far between. She had to fend off another breakpoint just to get on the board in the final set, aided by three Osaka errors.

But she would not win another game, Hsieh’s bag of tricks turned out but no answer for the Osaka power surge. 

“Uhm, I just thought I didn’t want to give up,” said the famously droll Osaka.

She even saw the humour in the heat of battle. Stumbling to the court as she served for the second set, Osaka called the umpire call out: “Naomi, are you okay?”

“No!” She fired back, before sweeping the next three points for the game and set.

This all-Asian clash was played in fine spirit. Early in the third set on her serve, Osaka applauded a Hsieh winner in the heat of a four-deuce game. In the last game, both were smiling after an exchange that went Hsieh’s way.

Osaka, who also made the fourth round here in 2018, faces either Wang Qiang or Anastasija Sevastova for a place in the quarterfinals.