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Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open

Naomi Osaka feels the strain as Hong Kong Tennis Open organisers sweat on her fitness for Victoria Park

Recently crowned US Open champion withdraws from Wuhan Open citing a ‘viral illness’ hours after her straight-sets defeat by Pliskova in Tokyo

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2018, 7:22pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 September, 2018, 8:31am

Organisers of next month’s Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open are keeping their fingers crossed that Naomi Osaka would make her highly anticipated return to the city after she complained of exhaustion in her straight-sets defeat by former world number one Karolina Pliskova at the Pan Pacific Open on Sunday.

A tearful Osaka said at the prize presentation in Tokyo that she needed a break after her exploits in becoming the first Japanese to win a grand slam title at the US Open in New York earlier this month started to take its toll. Within hours of her 6-4, 6-4 defeat in Tokyo, Wuhan Open organisers said on Twitter she withdrew from their tournament, citing a “viral illness”.

The 20-year-old Osaka has signed with the US$500,000 Hong Kong tournament to make her second straight appearance at Victoria Park and was scheduled to compete in this week’s Wuhan Open in China. Before she withdrew, she said her chances of playing in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province were “very low”.

“I’ve literally never felt more tired. I haven’t really had much time to rest, so I feel tired right now,” said Osaka in Tokyo, confessing that she needed a break having won 10 matches in a row including her triumph at the US Open title before her streak came to a shuddering halt.

When asked to explain her lacklustre performance, Osaka replied: “If I know I would have fixed it. As I am feeling very tired today, maybe I wasn’t doing the little things well.

“The chances of me playing in the next tournament are very low,” she added, only to pull out hours later.

Osaka was originally scheduled to continue her Asia swing by competing in Wuhan and then Beijing for the China Open, starting on September 29. She is then scheduled to play in the Hong Kong tournament at Victoria Park, starting on October 6.

Osaka had drawn a first-round bye in Wuhan and was scheduled to play either China’s Zhang Shuai or Australian wild card, Samantha Stosur, in the round of 32 had she not pulled out.

During the final in Tokyo, the strain was beginning to show on a dejected Osaka when she called for coach Sascha Bajin and groaned: “I feel so stressed out!”

But Osaka was still proud she had made the Tokyo final and added: “To play the final of the US Open and then to come here, I think I did pretty well. So if there is anything I can take from this it is that I am proud of myself.”

Meanwhile, the fourth-seeded Pliskova needed just 63 minutes to complete a clinical victory.

“I’m just happy it didn’t go to three sets,” said the Czech, who had been taken the distance in her previous three matches.

“My serve is my biggest weapon and it was key today,” added Pliskova after scooping an 11th career title. “Naomi was maybe a little bit tired, you could see that. But the future is bright for her and congrats to her for an incredible few weeks.”

The players had split their previous two meetings, but Osaka started the final as favourite after her historic New York triumph.

And the third seed began in menacing fashion, thumping an ace down the middle on the first point and holding her first two service games to love.

But Pliskova slowly turned the screw and broke for 3-2 with a fizzing backhand her opponent swished well wide.

The Czech was soon a set to the good after unleashing another brutal drive, Osaka caught flat-footed and dumping it into the net.

Runner-up in Tokyo two years ago, Osaka climbed to seventh in the world rankings after becoming Japan’s first grand slam singles champion but she looked lost for ideas against Pliskova.

The 20-year-old buried her head in a towel during the changeover and things barely improved in the second set, Osaka whacking her racquet against her sneakers in anger at her wastefulness.