Naomi Osaka put Ashleigh Barty’s quest for the year-end No.1 ranking on hold for now after the Japanese scored a three-set win in the China Open final.
Osaka fought back to register a 3-6 6-3 6-2 win in one hour and 50 minutes in Beijing on Sunday.
“In the first set honestly all I could think about was how much I wanted to win. That made me very emotional. I think that was pretty obvious. Like, I think you can see that from the outside,” Osaka said.
“In the second set, I just tried to rationalise everything. Then in the third set, just continue what I was doing in the second.”
Barty is still in a strong position to become the first Australian woman in the professional era to end the year on top of the rankings, however, as she remains more than 1000 points clear of world No.2 Karolina Pliskova.
The Czech would likely need to win the season-ending WTA Finals in Shenzhen combined with a poor run from Barty for this to happen.
Third-ranked Elina Svitolina and world No.4 Osaka nominally remain in contention to top the rankings but would need a lot to go their way.
Yet Osaka has now won 10 straight matches and two consecutive titles, storming to the Pan Pacific trophy on home soil in Osaka prior to her winning week in Beijing.
“I honestly was counting the ranking points; I was too stats-oriented after I won Australian Open because there was this big thing about you’re No. 1 now. Then I felt like I shouldn’t lose a match after that,” Osaka reflected of her mentality after winning her second Grand Slam title in January.
“I think this dip that I had really humbled me. It made me very motivated to, like, be here right now.”
Things looked on track for Barty who started the final in composed fashion as her rival mixed sublime shot-making with unforced errors.
After five deuces on Osaka’s serve in the sixth game, Barty made the first breakthrough to take a 4-2 lead.
She eventually served out the set to love and looked to be in good shape to take her career record to 3-1 against Osaka before the 2018 US Open mounted a comeback.
Osaka’s returns began to find their range more and she broke for a 4-2 lead in the second set before serving it out to take the clash into a decider.
With three consecutive three-setters behind her in Beijing, including the semifinal against Kiki Bertens where she saved a match point, Barty appeared to tire in the third set.
Nineteen unforced errors in the final set took their toll on this year’s French Open winner, who was broken twice in the final set for Osaka to close out the match for her third title of 2019.
Despite her defeat, Barty insisted she was was pleased with her performance in the final.
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) October 6, 2019
“It was a high-quality match, I think there were times where I was really doing the right things and it came down to a little bit of execution,” she said.
“I’m certainly proud of the way we were able to kind of fight and hang in there right until the end in tough, sterile conditions.
“It’s never easy playing a pure ball striker. It was tougher to get it out of Naomi’s hip pocket but all things considered it was a bloody good effort tonight.”
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