U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka managed to keep a lid on her simmering temper and powered to a 6-4 6-1 win over Elina Svitolina on Wednesday to book a spot in the Australian Open semi-finals for the first time.
The 21-year-old, who will play Karolina Pliskova for a place in the final, committed a string of unforced errors but still proved too strong for the sixth-seeded Ukrainian.
Osaka wrapped up the win in an hour and 12 minutes to become the first Japanese woman to reach the last four at Melbourne Park since Kimiko Date in 1994.
Osaka’s first Grand Slam triumph at the U.S. Open last year was overshadowed by a row between Serena Williams and umpire Carlos Ramos but there will be no rematch of that match at Melbourne Park.
Williams, a 23-times major winner, squandered four match points and blew a 5-1 lead in the decider to fall to seventh seed Pliskova 6-4 4-6 7-5 in the last quarter-final of the women’s draw.
“I have played her (Pliskova) a couple times already. She’s really tough to play,” said Osaka. “I can barely read her serve, so it’s very difficult for me.
“I see now that she doesn’t hit too many unforced errors, which is a little bit dangerous.”
Osaka said Pliskova always seemed to stay calm on court, something she struggles with.
“For me, today, I had one goal – it was to try as hard as I can and not get angry. I didn’t do that well in the past two rounds, but I played well today,” she added.
INCONSISTENT FIRST SET
Osaka’s power was on full display against WTA Finals champion Svitolina, with the Japanese thumping 31 winners to her opponent’s 11. But she was also sloppy at times, committing 25 unforced errors, nine more than Svitolina.
“Everyone knows my backhand was a little bit inconsistent in the first set,” Osaka said. “I think I was making too many unforced errors on the serve.
“So in the second set I just tried to play more and see if she’s gonna hit winners or not.”
Ukrainian Svitolina, 24, kept her errors in check to get two service breaks back and stay in the opening set at 4-5.
Osaka blew three set point opportunities on Svitolina’s next serve with three embarrassing errors, berating herself with angry slaps on the thigh.
However, the Japanese gathered herself and hit a crisp backhand to set up a fourth chance, and converted it when Svitolina thumped a return into the net.
Svitolina took a medical timeout in the second set for neck and shoulder problems with Osaka up 3-0 but she was broken again after returning to the court.
“I felt pain from the beginning of the tournament here and there. It was going and coming back,” Svitolina said.
“Unfortunately today was a little bit worse than I expected.
“It’s normal to have some tension during the Grand Slam and it happens, but unfortunately I couldn’t handle it today.”
Fourth seed Osaka served her eighth ace then converted her first match point with an overhead winner to seal the win.
Armed with inner peace, Osaka thirsty for more success
Having tasted her first Grand Slam success at the U.S. Open last year, Naomi Osaka says she now has a “weird” feeling of wanting more after progressing to her maiden Australian Open semi-final on Wednesday.
“This is something that I have been working on a lot, which is trying to get deeper in tournaments more consistently. I think I have been able to do that,” Osaka told reporters.
“But for me right now I just try to keep looking forward. So I’m not really satisfied — I am happy that I’m here, but at the same time I want to keep going. There are more matches to win.”
The Australian Open was the first Grand Slam Osaka got into the main draw through the qualifiers in 2016 and while she knows she has progressed quickly she is far from satisfied.
“I already know that to be here is something that a lot of people want, and I know that a few months ago I would have given anything to be in the semi-finals of a Slam,” she said.
“But it’s this weird feeling of you want to do the next big thing. And especially now that I won a Grand Slam, and I feel like I want to win another one, and I’m so close and I just want to keep going.”
Standing on the podium at the U.S. Open waiting to be handed her trophy after defeating Williams in an ill-tempered final, Osaka heard only boos from an angry and frustrated crowd.
That prompted Osaka to work more on the mental aspects of her game during the off-season.
“I feel right now most people know me for U.S. Open, right? And during U.S. Open, I didn’t show any emotions most of the time,” said the fourth seed, who was born in the Japanese city of Osaka but moved to the United States as a three-year-old.
“But then after that, I did show a lot of emotions. I got upset and then I threw my racket or stuff like that. I don’t really want to do that. I feel I play better when I’m calm.
“When I’m not calm, it just makes my life harder.
“… there is an inner peace I can tap into sometimes during my matches, and it’s kind of hard to get to but once I’m there it’s really easy. Not easy, but nothing can really bother me.
“So that’s just something I’m trying to learn how to do consistently.”