Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open

Crowd favourite Naomi Osaka to return older, stronger and wiser at the Hong Kong Tennis Open

Rising Japanese star, who is still going strong at the US Open, will return to have another crack at the US$500,000 WTA tournament in October at Victoria Park

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2018, 6:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 September, 2018, 1:49am

Charismatic Naomi Osaka has been included in a world-class field containing a past grand slam champion and potential superstars for next month’s US$500,000 Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open at Victoria Park.

The 20-year-old Japanese will be a major drawcard in the women’s tournament that will also include 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, of Latvia, world No 7 Elina Svitolina, of Ukraine, and top Chinese pair Zhang Shuai and Wang Qiang.

Local stars Zhang Ling and Eudice Chong will be flying the Hong Kong flag after receiving wild cards for the tournament.

Crowd favourite Osaka, who has earned career victories over Romania’s world No 1, Simona Halep, Serena and Venus Williams plus Russia’s Maria Sharapova, among others, will be the potential superstar to watch as she makes her return to the Hong Kong tournament, scheduled for October 6-14.

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And she’s the only woman in the Hong Kong field still going strong at the US Open, the last grand slam event of the year, as she and Kei Kishikori blazed a trail by becoming the first Japanese to reach the quarter-finals of the men’s and women’s singles at Flushing Meadows.

Born to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother, Osaka has cruised into the last eight at the US Open to match her best to date at Flushing Meadows and the world No 19 will meet Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko for a place in the last four early Thursday morning (HK time). Last year, Osaka defeated American legend Venus Williams in the second round of the Hong Kong Open before losing in the quarter-finals to eventual winner Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the Russian who will not return to defend her title this year.

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Hong Kong Tennis Association president Philip Mok Kwan-yat agreed that Osaka will be the star to watch in the city again as the highly touted next “big thing” in tennis.

“Osaka is definitely the next big star. Many well known tennis critics have tipped her to become the next grand slam winner and who knows maybe she will do it at the US Open. As far I know, she has lost very few games so far and she has beaten players quite easily,” said Mok.

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Ostapenko punched well above her weight by winning the French Open title last year and although she has not been able to match those heady heights at Roland Garros this season, Mok thinks the 21-year-old Latvian will also be closely watched as she makes her Hong Kong debut.

“She's definitely a rising star. I have watched her play live personally and she’s still very young. She plays fearlessly, all-out hitting type of tennis and I think she will do very well [in Hong Kong],” he said.

Fans can also look forward to watching the return of Chinese stars Wang and Zhang, who finished 1-2 at the Asian Games in Jakarta recently with Wang taking her second straight Asiad singles gold. Wang enjoyed a fine run at last year’s Hong Kong Open, reaching the semi-finals.

Svitolina returns to Hong Kong for the second year on the back of a solid season that included a quarter-final appearance at this year’s Australian Open. She’s also hoping for a better run in the Hong Kong tournament after withdrawing from her last-32 match last year as the top seed because of a leg injury.

Last year’s Hong Kong Open was severely affected by Typhoon Khanun after heavy rain drenched the city. Pavlyuchenkova won the final against Australia’s Daria Gavrilova with the Russian clinching the title well past midnight.

Mok said organisers have made provision for the Hong Kong Open to fall back on a Monday in case inclement weather plays havoc to the tournament again.

“Last year was an exceptional case because it was Typhoon [Signal] 8 for most of the day [final] and we couldn’t really start until 7.30pm. But still the rain was on and off and I would say we were very fortunate to be even able to finish that match within that night.”

Asked whether the tournament was at the mercy of the weather again this year, Mok replied: “Unfortunately, this is the reality of outdoor sports but we do have a fallback day on Monday. The final can be held on Monday. We have to work very closely with the WTA to help with their scheduling if such a case happens again,” said Mok.

China heroine Li Na will be making an appearance at the Hong Kong tournament as an ambassador and will play in an exhibition match, organisers said.