STUTTGART, April 25, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Hsieh Su-Wei was probably not the ideal opponent for World No. 1 Naomi Osaka of Japan to begin her clay-court season against at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart. After all, the No. 24 Hsieh from Chinese Taipei plays a very creative – if not unorthodox – style of tennis that relies upon hitting plenty of soft, slice returns and other uncannily-angled shots. Plus, Hsieh handed Osaka her most recent loss last month in Miami.
However, it didn’t matter as Osaka began with a good 6-4, 6-3 win Thursday afternoon that included seven service aces and three breaks of Hsieh’s serve. The match was brief – just an hour and 24 minutes – but by winning, Osaka will retain her No. 1 ranking for at least another week. She advanced to her first quarterfinal on clay and will face No. 22 Donna Vekic of Croatia on Friday. Earlier Thursday, Vekic beat No. 25 Daria Kasatkina of Russia, 6-1, 7-5.
Coming into their third meeting of the season and fourth overall, Hsieh has given Osaka plenty of trouble. At the Australian Open in January, Osaka had to come from a set and a break down to pull out a 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 win in the third round. Then, Hsieh avenged the loss by beating Osaka in Miami, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3.
— WTA (@WTA) 25. April 2019
Appearing in her first match in over a month, Osaka came out looking uncomfortable and playing tentative tennis. Whether it was being thrusted into the spotlight as the top women’s player in the world after winning consecutive Grand Slam titles or making her debut wearing Nike apparel after signing a lucrative deal – or simply playing on clay for the first time this year – it took a while for Osaka to get her game on track. Once she did, there was little stopping her.
During her post-match press conference, Osaka said she learned quickly from her last loss to Hsieh. ”The way our games are set up she takes more risks than me and it pays off faster on hard court,” said Osaka, as quoted by the WTA website. “So I felt like this surface is more suited for me. That sounds pretty weird but I think that’s true.
“If there is one positive thing I can say about myself, it’s that I learn quickly. So, for me it’s fun because I like to apply what I did wrong in the past, and I think that’s what I was able to do today.”
Osaka broke for a 3-2 lead in the opening set that followed an 11-minute fourth game, in which she saved the only two break points she faced from Hsieh. Then, Osaka broke in the first game of the second set as Hsieh began to falter. She converted three of six break points overall. In winning just her tenth main-draw match on clay, Osaka hit 22 winners to just 16 unforced errors. It was her first win over Hsieh in straight sets.
“I can’t go into a tournament thinking that I just want to coast it out, but at the same time I don’t want to overhype myself and say I’m going to win this tournament because there are a lot of clay experts and I’m not one of them,” Osaka said earlier this week during a WTA All Access Hour, as quoted by the WTA website.
“Every other court or (surface) I have more experience than I have on clay because honestly, every time I come here I get injured. I’m hoping that won’t happen this year, but the last two times it’s been rough. Every clay season I missed out on at least one tournament, so honestly, my main goal is to not get injured and just ride it up until French Open.”
Kerber wins spirited clash over Petkovic
The all-German clash between two-time (2015, 2016) Porsche Tennis Grand Prix champion and No. 5 seed Angelique Kerber and No. 71 wild card Andrea Petkovic, both making their eighth appearance at Stuttgart, highlighted Thursday’s evening session at Porsche Arena. It was a spirited affair among longtime friends and Fed Cup teammates that Kerber won 6-2, 6-4 in one hour and 14 minutes to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals against No. 6 seed Kiki Bertens. It marked the fifth time that Kerber has reached the Stuttgart quarterfinals.
In each of their previous 11 matches against each other, the winner of the first set has gone on to win. Thursday night’s second-round match was no different as Kerber won five games in a row to take the first set 6-2. Then, with Kerber up a break from 4-3 and, soon, serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, Petkovic saved three match points, the second and third with a backhand winner down the line followed by a cross-court forehand winner. Petkovic wasn’t going to go down easy. However, the German No. 1 put away the match on her fourth match-point effort when Petkovic hit a backhand return wide. As Kerber and Petkovic reached the net, they shared a long and warm embrace and exchanged pleasantries. Then, both walked off the Porsche Arena Centre Court with smiles on their faces.
“It’s never easy to play against someone who you’ve know for a such long time. We’re really good friends. In the end, we just hugged each other and she said congrats to me,” said Kerber, who answered questions during her post-match press conference in both English and German, which was live-streamed on the tournament’s Facebook page. “We are of an age where we know how to deal with the situation. We are really good friends.”
Asked to describe the energy of the arena with two Germans facing each other on Centre Court, Kerber said “It’s always a good feeling. The energy was amazing.”
Despite the loss, Petkovic was upbeat when she met the media. She said: “We have tremendous respect for each other’s careers and each other’s games. I have to be out of my comfort zone to win, but I missed too many balls. Once she got in a groove, Angie played some really good shots when it counted.”
Around Porsche Arena
• Defending champion and No. 4 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic fell to No. 61 Victoria Azarenka from Belarus, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, in two hours and nine minutes. Pliskova, who came in with an 8-2 career mark in Stuttgart, won a tight opening set thanks to a break of Azarenka’s serve that came in the 10th game. However, Azarenka, the 2012 finalist, recovered and leveled the match with three breaks of Pliskova to take the middle set. She continued to play tough in the final set despite struggling to place her first serves in play. Both competitors stayed on serve through eight closely-played games in the final set. Then, in the ninth game, Pliskova was unable to convert a break point at 30-40 to push ahead and, instead, Azarenka held serve for a 5-4 advantage. She gained the upper hand quickly and put away the match on her second match-point opportunity when Pliskova shanked a forehand return. Azarenka outpointed Pliskova 94-87.
• No. 6 seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands fired 20 service aces and won 88 percent (38 of 43) of her first-serve points in coming back from a set down to beat No. 20 Belinda Bencic in one hour and 59 minutes to reach her first Stuttgart quarterfinal. Next, she’ll face No. 5 seed Angelique Kerber Friday evening. Bertens, who improved to 3-0 lifetime against Bencic, won 11 more points on returns and outpointed her Swiss foe 95-81. Bertens’ 20 aces tied Viktorija Kuzmova for most aces hit in a match this season. She has the second-most aces on the season behind Karolina Pliskova.
• No. 7 seed Anastasija Sevastova advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals with a 6-4, 6-3 win over German wild card and 2017 Stuttgart champion Laura Siegemund. From 4-4 in the first set, the No. 13 Sevastova won seven of the next eight games. Although the Latvian outpointed No. 99 Siegemund 88-73, she won just 35 points on her serve while amassing 53 points on returns. Next, Sevastova will face No. 3 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic.
• No. 8 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-3, 6-2, in just 58 minutes to advance. It was Kontaveit’s third win in four career head-to-head matches against the No. 34 Russian. She hit seven service aces, won 79 percent (26 of 33) of her first-serve points and outpointed Pavlyuchenkova 61-37. The No. 15 Kontaveit, who has reached the Stuttgart quarterfinals for the second straight year, will face unseeded Victoria Azarenka.
• Three weeks after she signed a multi-million dollar deal with iconic American sports apparel company Nike, World No. 1 Naomi Osaka made her tournament debut with the familiar Nike swoosh across her chest. Osaka’s first Nike outfit consisted of a sleeveless white top with two sponsorship patches on either side of the Nike logo, a dark charcoal-colored skirt, bright orange Nike shoes and her customary visor, in white with a Nike swoosh. She’s also featured in a Japanese-language ad for Nike that’s airing in Japan.
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@Naomi_Osaka_) 19. April 2019
• In reaching out to fans through social media, the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix live-streamed Thursday’s post-match press conferences of both top seed Naomi Osaka and No. 5 seed Angelique Kerber via the tournament’s Facebook page.
What they’re saying
• No. 7 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, telling the WTA Insider why she had to pull out of last weekend’s Fed Cup: “I sacrificed Fed Cup for my health. A lot of people are probably angry that I didn’t play Fed Cup and now I’m playing here. But Fed Cup was on rough hard courts. It was not great for my back. So, I didn’t therapy, got it checked out. I could forget my clay court season if I didn’t do anything. I’m feeling better day-by-day.”
• No. 24 Hsieh Su-Wei, before facing World No. 1 Naomi Osaka, as quoted by the WTA website: “On clay, it can be pretty good, it can be pretty bad. I know I can suddenly get the feeling and I can feel really comfortable on the court. Even if I lose a match, I know it’s coming. So I’m not worried about the clay court. I have a few tournaments before Roland Garros, so I just want to enjoy.”
Singles / second round
No. 1 Naomi Osaka d. Hsieh Su-Wei, 6-4, 6-3
Donna Vekic d. Daria Kasatkina, 6-1, 7-5
Victoria Azarenka d. No. 4 Karolina Pliskova, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
No. 8 Anett Kontaveit d. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-3, 6-2
No. 7 Anastasija Sevastova d. WC-Laura Siegemund, 6-4, 6-3
No. 6 Kiki Bertens d. Belinda Bencic, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
No. 5 Angelique Kerber d. WC-Andrea Petkovic, 6-2, 6-4
Doubles / first round
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/Lucie Safarova d. No. 4 Raquel Atawo/Katarina Srebotnik, 6-0, 6-2
Gabriela Dabrowski/Jelena Ostapenko d. Belinda Bencic/Alicja Rosolska, 2-6, 7-5, 11-9
Friday’s order of play
Centre Court / from 1:30 p.m.
No. 7 Anastasija Sevastova vs. No. 3 Petra Kvitova
No. 1 Naomi Osaka vs. Donna Vekic
Not before 6:30 p.m.
No. 6 Kiki Bertens vs. No. 5 Angelique Kerber
Victoria Azarenka vs. No. 8 Anett Kontaveit
Court 1 / from 2 p.m.
Darija Jurak/Raluca Olaru vs. Anna Blinkova/Oksana Kalashnikova
WC-Mona Barthel/Anna-Lena Friedsam vs. Mandy Minella/Andrea Petkovic