Osaka: “I kind of feel like people counted me out”

Published by Matt Trollope

Naomi Osaka urges herself on during her quarterfinal victory over Bianca Andreescu at the China Open (Getty Images)
The highly-anticipated Naomi Osaka v Bianca Andreescu clash lives up to the hype, with Osaka winning in three compelling sets to reach the China Open semifinals.

Naomi Osaka is pleased with where her game is at following a statement victory over Bianca Andreescu at the China Open on Friday night.

In the first meeting between two of the WTA’s hottest new talents, reigning Australian Open champion Osaka upended newly-crowned US Open champion Andreescu in a high-quality three-set battle lasting two hours, 14 minutes.

Osaka’s 5-7 6-3 6-4 win – during which she trailed 3-1 in both the second and third sets – sets up a semifinal meeting with defending champion Caroline Wozniacki.

NEWS: Barty beats Kvitova to reach China Open semis

Wozniacki earlier on Friday beat Daria Kasatkina to take her winning streak in Beijing to 10 matches and 20 consecutive sets.

“It meant a lot because I kind of feel like people counted me out after the Europe thing,” Osaka said, referring to her failure to progress beyond the semifinal stage of any event during the clay and grass-court seasons.

“I’m just, like, I still won a slam this year, I won Tokyo. I’m still here.

“I just felt like playing the hottest player right now sort of — I don’t know. I just feel like I don’t want to say ‘re-found’ my game, but I think I’m playing good quality tennis now.”

Indeed, Andreescu was the hottest player on tour, riding a 17-match winning streak into the China Open quarterfinals. Her last loss came in the fourth round of the Miami Open.

The 19-year-old Canadian, who won the WTA Toronto title before her victory at Flushing Meadows, was a perfect 8-0 against top-10 opponents and had won her past 13 matches that had extended to a third set.

Osaka ended all of those streaks with her thrilling victory on Friday night.

The two players shared a hug and an extended exchange at the net as tennis social media went into overdrive, capturing the moment and re-hashing the match that had generated so much interest.

“I said, Congrats, you played amazing. She said, You’re amazing,” Andreescu recounted.

“What did I say then? Oh, I said, We’re going to have so many more matches like this. I can’t wait to see what the future holds. She’s like, Yup, I’m excited.”

Osaka said she was keenly aware of the hype surrounding the match – and many fans’ overt hope this could become a truly storied rivalry the WTA has previously had little luck in cultivating.

She fell behind 5-1 in the opening set, and after losing it, trailed 3-1 in both the second and third sets before storming back in a match of both high quality and intensity.

“Yeah, I mean, it affected me. It just made me really nervous,” the world No.4 admitted.

“I feel like in the beginning we were both scoping each other out. She was probably thinking, like, Wow, what is she doing? I’m just, like, hitting so many unforced errors. She’s like, Wow, she won two Grand Slams like that? (smiling)

“I was just trying to settle in the first set. I could not find the mental line of not being nervous and also being fired up. That was a bit of a struggle.

“For sure I think a lot of people were talking about this match.”

Andreescu was visibly disappointed as she fronted the media after the match, but was able to see beyond the loss and acknowledge the positives in what has been an incredible recent run.

She, like Osaka, has qualified for the elite eight-player field at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, and she believes she is playing even better tennis now than the level she produced in New York.

“It’s disappointing. I forgot how it feels (to lose). Honestly it sucks. I didn’t miss it at all,” Andreescu said.

“But at least I didn’t get whooped 1-1. I put on a fight. Honestly, it could have went either way. It was just some points here and there.

“At the same time I am pissed, but at the same time I’m proud of myself with how I played today. I really fought, especially in that last game. Holy crap, that was crazy (smiling).

“Hopefully it was fun to watch.”

It was.

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