"I feel like even if I hit one semi-short ball she would come in and crush it, so I had to play really well", Osaka said about her strategies in playing Venus Williams. This season alone, Naomi Osaka had most of her tournaments end in the opening rounds, second or third and that's about it.
The idea of stringing along rounds and tournaments to at least the quarterfinal was more difficult than imagined but at least she had the chance to play some top players and the only high ranking one she defeated at mid season was Angelique Kerber at the first round of the US Open.
Then came the Asian swing. First it was the Japan Women's Open Tennis where Osaka being in her home country thought she'd have this match opposite a lady Japanese Kumuri Nara. But it didn't happen. Was it the added pressure of playing in Japan that did her in? Maybe, but she lost in the opening round, an embarrassment no less.
Then the same thing happened at the Toray Pan Pacific Open. It was an unsuccessful tournament and she was stopped by a player she'd already played in the US Open and beaten, and that was Angelique Kerber. The loss in straight sets was puzzling.
It might have been 'a grudge match', her defeating Kerber in the Open and now Kerber overpowering her. The German was surprised but glad she could get the win and says about Osaka that "It's always tough to play against her...for sure she will have great success in the future".
But the future was awhile coming and when Osaka entered the Wuhan Open she was defeated by Elise Mertens ranked no. 38, another German who had beaten maybe her toughest player of the season--Dominika Cibulkova. The idea of being more consistent wasn't being executed on court as on paper and at the China Open at Beijing, Osaka's third time at playing Kerber came to light, but not a good one as she lost again in straight sets.
Each tournament players must say to themselves that this one will be different and ewven though Osaka was only 19 years old, she'd have to get things corrected now or have downfalls later. The Prudential Hong Kong Open proved to be that breakout tournament.
A win in the opening round over Alexa Guarachi, a Chilean ranked no. 347 and who had one ITF singles and 13 doubles titles didn't phase Osaka a bit. She won and her confidence grew for the next opponent being Venus Williams, besides from being a role model to Osaka, she was one of the toughest players on tour.
"Venus is someone I've respected and admired...I've grown up watching her. Even though she is someone I admire, it's just another opponent at the end of the day..." Osaka said proudly. The young Japanese played her game point-by-point and lunked off eight straight games over Williams, but the veteran wouldn't be denied and broke Osaka in the fifth game of the beginning set to bring the score to 5-4.
It seems as though Osaka gathered her composure and not only capitalized on Williams' lost of serve but started playing well and won the first set. this gave her confidence in the second set and she won game after game on a stunned Venus who was left looking at a deficit of 5-0.
"I felt like I played offensively and hit really deep hard balls, but she had the luck today and could return...even harder and deeper, Williams said. At the end of the day it was a done deal and Osaka was the winner of her first successful match over another top-ranked player and over Venus Williams.
The 19-year-old has much to be proud of and looks forward to her next match with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who may give the Japanese some trouble with her huge forehands and speeding shots. She lost to Caroline Wozniacki but has beaten Kerber too.
So if Osaka keeps focused the next match should result in success for the tenn who just got inspired by defeating not only a player she admired, but one of the toughest players on tour. .