CINCINNATI, OH, USA - World No.1 Naomi Osaka took the scenic route to the third round at the Western & Southern Open, needing three sets to move past Aliaksandra Sasnovich, 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-2.
Last week, Osaka kicked off her North American hardcourt season in Toronto, where she reached the quarterfinals for the first time before falling to Serena Williams. That result - among other variables - catapulted her back into the WTA World No.1 ranking.
Osaka edged past the first set today against Sasnovich, when the Belarusian came charging back in the second - but it was all Osaka in the third to claim her first victory in Cincinnati.
The win today assures that any challengers for her No.1 ranking - namely Ashleigh Barty and Karolina Pliskova - will need to reach the final of Cincinnati in order to dethrone her.
“I think I just wanted to carry on like the sort of happy laughing vibe from Toronto, but I think I was a bit too, like, giggly,” said Osaka, who was visibly upbeat throughout the match. “There were some points I didn't really have to laugh but I did, because it was either that or, like, get a little frustrated. So it was a bit hard kind of juggling that.
“Some of them I was laughing at my errors because it was so ridiculous, and then other times I was just laughing because, like, I was in a good mood.”
Osaka came out of the gates swinging against Sasnovich, breaking early to score a 2-1 lead. Sasnovich did well to strike back right away, leveling the score at 2-2, but Osaka regained the lead a game later for 3-2. The pair stayed toe-to-toe, trading blows from the baseline as Osaka held onto her lead, 5-3.
But as the set approached its final moments, Sasnovich struck back as Osaka served for the set, breaking back at 5-5. The pair marched into a tiebreak, where the Belaurisan charged ahead to a 2-0 minibreak lead. But the two-time Grand Slam responded reeling off the next five points in a row, and then slamming the door shut to take the opening set.
Osaka seemed to let off the gas pedal in the second set, and Sasnovich pounced on the opportunities. As the unforced errors sprayed from the Japanese player’s racquet with increasing frequency, Sasnovich reeled off the final five games in a row to level the match, 6-2.
But Osaka found her game in the final set, racing ahead to a 3-0 lead. Osaka continued to chip away at the Sasnovich defense, earning a second break to close out the match, 6-2.
“It's the first match I have ever won here in the main draw, so I can't be too hard on myself, even though I naturally am,” Osaka reflected. “I would have loved to not get broken. I think the first set there was the 5-5 game I got broken there. I think I could have avoided that easily if I would just, you know, kind of put my head straight or put my head in the game more.
“I think that's something that I learn as I play more matches. Hopefully I'll have that opportunity.”
The Japanese player fired 24 winners and 29 unforced errors against Sasnovich, who kept pace with 22 winners and 26 errors of her own. But it was Osaka who was more decisive on the big moments, converting on four of her five break opportunities, while Sasnovich broke four from seven times.
Up next, Osaka will take on Hsieh Su-Wei in the third round. Hsieh escaped from a tough battle against qualifier Jennifer Brady, winning 7-6(9), 6-3 earlier in the day to advance.
“I never know what to expect with her,” Osaka said of Hsieh. “That's kind of the fun part, so I expect that I'll laugh a lot because there are things that are out of my control.
“But, yeah, the last time I played her in Miami, I just remember being frustrated. I think everyone could see that. So I think the time after that in Germany I was just trying to be focused, and I won that match. I'll just try to carry that on.”