Reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka survived a giant scare against Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-Wei to progress to the final 16 at the Australian Open.
The world No.4 trailed a set and 4-1 before rallying to beat the crafty 28th seed 5-7 6-4 6-1 in the third round on Saturday.
Osaka, who claimed her maiden Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows last year over Serena Williams, struggled early against the slice and off-pace shots of Hsieh.
“She hits very different from everyone else. I can never really tell where she’s going to put the ball. She hits down the line and then hits a weird crosscourt,” Osaka observed.
“It’s very, very hard to have a rally with her.”
Hsieh last year reached the fourth round at Melbourne Park, upsetting third seed Garbine Muguruza and former world No.2 Agnieszka Radwanska before pushing Angelique Kerber all the way in a pulsating clash at Rod Laver Arena.
And she nearly pulled off another stunner against Osaka, who made 20 unforced errors in the first set and found herself down a break in the second and staring down the barrel of a first-week exit.
But the Japanese star clicked into gear, reeling off 11 of the last 12 games to make the fourth round at Melbourne Park for the second straight year.
“Of course I’m happy with how I fought. For me, that’s, like, one of the biggest things I always thought I could improve, because it sort of seems like before I would accept defeat in a way,” she said.
“I walked into the match knowing that she was going to do a lot of strange things, no offense (smiling). But she was just playing so well, and I think I got overwhelmed.
First set to giant killer Hsieh Su-wei, 7-5 over #4 Naomi Osaka.
Uncharacteristic anger from Osaka after that, throwing and kicking her racket, earning a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct. #AusOpen
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 19, 2019
“Early in the second set I tried doing things that I know isn’t necessarily my game, like I was trying to hit higher balls. I don’t even practice doing that. So it felt like such a waste.
“Then after a while, I just started thinking that I’m in a Grand Slam. I shouldn’t be sad, I’m playing against a really great player, so I should just enjoy my time and try and put all my energy into doing the best that I can on every point.”
Osaka rose from world No.68 to No.5 in 2018, winning her maiden WTA title at Indian Wells before US Open success in September.
She will next meet 13th-seeded Latvian Anastasija Sevastova – who beat China’s Qiang Wang in straight sets – for a place in the quarterfinals.
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