Naomi Osaka in tears but survives huge scare against Zhang Shuai to reach China Open semi-finals in Beijing
Japanese is scheduled to appear in Hong Kong next week
A set and a game down in her China Open quarter-final on Friday, Naomi Osaka had tears in her eyes, burying her head in a towel at the change of ends with the match slipping away.
It was understandable, given the emotional roller coaster the 20-year-old has been on in the last month.
Having been broken by China’s unseeded Zhang Shuai in her first two games, Osaka could have wilted. But she showed herself to be a champion, overcoming a stressful situation to win 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 in Beijing.
True to her character, she was gracious in victory, one of the character traits that has endeared the down-to-earth star to fans.
“She’s such an incredible player, she’s really sweet. It was really hard to play against her here. You guys are lucky, she’s such a great player,” Osaka said of Zhang in an on-court interview.
If this quarter-final thriller is anything to go by, fans here will be in for a treat when Osaka and Zhang turn up for next week’s Hong Kong Tennis Open at Victoria Park.
The two had embraced at the net to share some kind words.
“She was saying congrats – I was sort of apologising for my behaviour, because I was kind of stressed when we were playing,” the world number six said.
But Osaka has nothing to apologise for. The first Japanese player to win a grand slam, after her stunning victory against Serena Williams in the US Open final, she has been thrust into the spotlight as the new star of women’s tennis, and as one of Asia’s new sporting heroes.
She had tears in her eyes after that Flushing Meadows triumph, too, after all the controversy surrounding Williams’ row with chair umpire Carlos Ramos.
It’s certainly easy to forget just how young she is, given the consistency she’s been showing on the court. This was her 14th win from her last 15 matches, her only defeat by Karolina Pliskova in the final of the Pan Pacific Open at her home tournament.
“I know it can only get harder from here. I know everyone wants to play really well,” said Osaka, who next faces either Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova or Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia for a place in the final.
Either way, she has already achieved her best result at the China Open, and will be the clear favourite on the court and among the crowd in Hong Kong.