Grass is greener for Naomi Osaka. At Nature Valley Open in Nottingham, the No.3 seed reached her maiden WTA quarter-final on this surface, the third overall this season, as she powered past Denisa Allertova 6-3 6-2. The Czech started to put pressure confidently on the Japanese's serve but from 3-2 in the opening set she lost seven games in a row and Osaka, who claimed 79% of first serve points, easily sealed towards her 13th career win on grass.
The Indian Wells champion, making her second appearance in Nottingham this year, extended to 2-0 her win-loss record against Allertova. At Us Open, last year, after celebrating her maiden Top 10 victory over Angelique Kerber, she defeated the Czech 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.
Osaka, aiming for the 60th WTA win and the second semifinal of the year, will meet for the first time Mihaela Buzarnescu. This time last year, the Romanian was ranked No.374 and started her unexpected rise into the Top 30 winning an obscure ITF $60,000 title in Hodmezovasarhely, in Hungary defeating Patty Schnyder in the first round and Danka Kovinic in the final.
The No.5 seed, aiming for the 80th overall win since that title, edged past Irina Falconi 6-3 5-7 6-3 yelling at her after the American got a dead netcord on match point. Buzarnescu, who bids for the fourth WTA semifinal in the last nine months, as immediately in control of the rallies.
Only rarely Falconi managed to change pace using sliced groundstrokes to take the initiative. The American, having not reached a WTA quarterfinal since Nurnberg 2016, had to dig deep to maintain her hopes to salvage a berth in the last 8 at WTA level on grass for the first time since Birmingham 2012.
The more aggressive Buzarnescu dropped serve to open the second set, manage to break back to 4-4 but lost her lead again. An error-prone Falconi needed two chances to serve out the set and force a decider. However the No.5 seed dictated the pace and built an unassailable 5-0 lead before celebrating a tough win with a couple of service winners.
Serve and return will be the key against the Japanese, who reached 113 aces on tour so far this season in 27 matches. Mona Barthel upset the No.2 seed Magdalena Rybarikova, bidding for the 10th win of the season, the 35th on grass in her career.
The German, who lost to the former Wimbledon semifinalist 6-3 7-6(5) in the first round of Miami in 2013, avenged that defeat and completed a 6-3 1-6 7-5 victory, her 14th against a top 20 opponent. Rybarikova won more points but it was Barthel to seal the most important and celebrate the 39th third-set win at WTA level and the 24th overall success on grass.
In her third WTA quarter-final of the season, Barthel will face Vera Lapko or Donna Vekic. Dalila Jakupovic beat Magdalena Frech in their first career meeting. Both are playing at career high rankings this week, of No.118 and No.119 respectively.
The Slovenian made the second career WTA quarter-final after her maiden semifinal run in Bogotà last April with a 6-4 6-3 win over the 20-year-old Frech who scored her first WTA-level victory at Roland Garros against Christina McHale. Jakupovic will meet the winner of the awaited Brit derby between Heather Watson and Johanna Konta.