TORONTO, Canada - No.2 seed Naomi Osaka continued her strong start to the North American Summer Hardcourt Swing - and kept her hopes of returning to World No.1 on Monday alive - with a solid win over Polish teenager Iga Swiatek, 7-6(4), 6-4 to reach the Rogers Cup quarterfinals - where 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams awaits.
"I'm just really excited," she said of the upcoming clash. "I grew up watching her, so whenever I get the opportunity to play her, it's something that I feel is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"It feels more like I'm showcasing my skills to her, like, 'Look what I can do.' You know what I mean? So I go into the matches with that mentality, and I'm just super grateful to get the chance to play her."
Playing her first tournament since a first round exit at Wimbledon - and assuring fans her best was yet to come - Osaka rallied from a break and two set points down in the opening set to ultimately emerge victorious and book a rematch of the US Open final against Williams after one hour and 51 mintues on Centre Court.
The Japanese youngster needed to win her opening round match against Tatjana Maria to have a chance at wresting the No.1 ranking back from Roland Garros champion Ashleigh Barty, who usurped the spot after winning the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham.
"I'm happy to be back on hardcourts. It feels very comfortable for me. I have a few kinks that I feel like I need to work out, but they're slowly getting better, and I don't think the goal is to be comfortable here. I think the goal is to be comfortable in New York. So I'm not too stressed about it.
"I'm just enjoying my time here. Like, I literally lost three times in the first round last year, so I'm not stressed about anything."
Though she is currently in pole position to return to the top of the WTA rankings on Monday, she could still face competition from fellow former World No.1 Karolina Pliskova, who must defeat Canadian star Bianca Andreescu to have a chance of her own at returning to No.1 for the first time since 2017.
Against Swiatek, she faced relatively inexperienced but fast-learning opposition after the teenager recovered from a set down to score her second career Top 20 win - and first over a former Grand Slam champion - by beating Caroline Wozniacki on Wednesday night.
— WTA (@WTA) August 9, 2019
Eager to earn another big scalp, Swiatek nabbed the first break of the match and got within two points of a 5-2 lead before Osaka reigned in the qualifier, saving two set points to force a tie-break, which she ended up winning on her second opportunity.
"She has a very odd ball for me. On the forehand side, it's quite spinny and it drops down. I think she hits really well cross-court on both sides, so that was a bit tricky navigating in the beginning.
"I just kept trying to fight for every point, not get too down on myself, and just tried to know that I have more experience than her, so maybe in the critical points I have the edge."
The second set saw Osaka take the early lead and, in a role reversal, Swiatek claw back, leveling the the set at three games apiece.
With Swiatek serving to stay in the match, the Japanese star struck, earning three match points and breaking at love to secure victory in straight sets.
— WTA (@WTA) August 9, 2019
Looking ahead to her highly anticipated quarterfinal clash, Osaka won both of her 2018 meetings against Williams. They first played at the Miami Open, where the youngster, fresh off her first WTA title at the BNP Paribas Open, extended her winning streak to defeat the American in just her second tournament since giving birth to daugther Alexis Olympia.
"It's just so different, though, the way that she strikes the ball," she said of Serena. "I can't even compare it. But then again, I haven't played Serena in what feels like forever. So I think I'm going to be surprised when I start playing with her tomorrow too."