Wham-bam as Japan’s Naomi Osaka blazes into Tokyo quarters

Nadal to miss Asian tournaments due to knee injury

TOKYO: Naomi Osaka of Japan hits a return against Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia during their women’s singles second round tennis match at the Pan Pacific Open tennis tournament in Tokyo yesterday. – AFP

TOKYO: Japan’s Naomi Osaka pulverised Slovak Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 6-1 to reach the Pan Pacific Open quarter-finals yesterday in her first match since her historic US Open triumph. The 20-year-old, who earlier this month stunned Serena Williams to become Japan’s first grand slam singles champion, fired down 10 aces in a fearsome display of wham-bam tennis in Tokyo.

Third seed Osaka came out with guns blazing and ripped a fizzing forehand down the line on the first point, racing away to close out the first set with a pair of thundering aces. A dazed Cibulkova, the 2014 Australian Open runner-up, had no answer to Osaka’s firepower as the world number seven wrapped up a comfortable victory with a ferocious cross-court backhand after just 59 minutes.

“I didn’t really feel any pressure-I felt it was more fun,” said Osaka, who reached the Tokyo final in 2016. “I’m not really thinking about winning the US Open,” added Japan’s latest sporting celebrity, who has a Japanese mother and a Haitian father and was raised in the United States. “I’m not sure what will happen when things calm down. But (today) as a whole I played at maybe 80 percent-I never know the limit of what level I can go to.”

Earlier, sixth seed Garbine Muguruza was upset by American qualifier Alison Riske 6-1, 6-2 in an abject performance from the Spanish former world number one, who looked a shadow of the player who captured the 2016 French Open and 2017 Wimbledon titles.

Riske advances to face fourth seed Karolina Pliskova, another player to have previously held the women’s top ranking. The Czech recovered from a set down to beat Australia’s Daria Gavrilova 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 and avenge her opponent’s defeat of twin sister Kristyna earlier this week.

But she made hard work of it, trashing a racquet in frustration as she slipped behind 4-1 in the deciding set before clawing her way back. “The first set was in my hands but I made some stupid mistakes,” said Pliskova, who ended Gavrilova’s resistance with a clever drop volley after two hours and 21 minutes.

“I tried to stay positive and even though I broke my racquet I tried to keep fighting, because you always have a chance.” Second seed Caroline Garcia flirted with an early exit as the Frenchwoman overcame Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 to reach the last eight of the prestigious Tokyo event, whose list of former champions includes Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Kimiko Date and Martina Hingis.

Meanwhile, world number one Rafael Nadal has announced his withdrawal from upcoming tournaments in Beijing and Shanghai due to the right knee injury that forced him to retire from the US Open earlier this month.

Nadal had to pull out during his semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro in New York and also missed Spain’s Davis Cup defeat by France last weekend. The 32-year-old said he visited doctors in Barcelona on Monday and has subsequently made the decision to play neither the ATP 500 event in Beijing nor the Masters 1000 in Shanghai.

“While the annoyances on my knee are nothing new, we have decided together with my medical and technical team not to participate in the Asian tour to recover the knee the way we have always done,” Nadal said yesterday.

“I’m sorry I can’t be with all the fans in China and with the organisers of the Beijing and Shanghai tournaments that have always had a great relationship with me and my team.” Nadal is the defending champion in Beijing, where he beat Nick Kyrgios in the final last year. He was also runner-up in Shanghai, denied by champion Roger Federer.

Missing both tournaments next month leaves the way open for Novak Djokovic to finish 2018 top of the ATP world rankings, despite another positive season for Nadal. The Spaniard clinched his 11th French Open title in June after also winning clay-court tournaments in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome.

He lost in the semi-finals at Wimbledon to Djokovic before the knee problem hampered his progress at Flushing Meadows. – AFP

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