Japan’s Osaka feeling no pressure as Open semi looms

Japan’s Naomi Osaka serves against Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina during their women’s singles quarter-final match on day ten of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 23, 2019. /AFP

Japan’s Naomi Osaka said she felt another Grand Slam title was close after routing an injured Elina Svitolina to reach the Australian Open semi-finals Wednesday.

The US Open champion cruised past the Ukrainian sixth seed 6-4, 6-1 and said she was hungry for more success ahead of a final four clash with Czech seventh seed Karolina Pliskova

Osaka, 21, seeded fourth this year, denied the pressure created by her breakthrough win at Flushing Meadows last year was getting to her and she was enjoying herself at Melbourne Park.

“I know that a few months ago I would have given anything to be in the semi-finals of a Slam,” she said.

“But it’s this weird feeling of, like, you want to do the next big thing. Especially now that I won a Grand Slam, I feel like I want to win another on.

“I’m so close and I just want to keep going.”

The win put Osaka into her straight Grand Slam semi-final and she is the first Japanese woman in the final four at Melbourne Park since Kimiko Date in 1994.

Svitolina received treatment for a neck and shoulder injury in the second set and looked a shadow of the player that won the WTA Finals in Singapore last October.

“I tried to be consistent, it’s unfortunate that she got injured but playing against her even when she was injured was still really tough,” Osaka said.

She was pleased to maintain her composure in a simple straight sets win after previously losing her cool on court when her last two matches went to three sets.

“I feel like I play better when I’m calm,” she said.

“When I’m not calm, it just makes my life harder. So I just try to stay calm, there’s an inner peace I can tap into sometimes during my matches.”

Osaka has a 3-2 losing record against Pliskova and said the Czech, who has been one of the most consistent performers at Grand Slams in recent years, was tough to play.

“I can barely read her serve, so it’s very difficult for me,” she said.

“She doesn’t hit too many unforced errors, which is a little bit dangerous.”

Osaka and Svitolina both fired down aces to hold their opening service games then went on to exchange two breaks mid-way in the opening set.

Osaka was the dominant player, hitting 17 winners to three and four aces to one but struggled to put away her chances.

She has complained throughout the tournament that she was making too many mistakes and 19 unforced errors to Svitolina’s seven in the first set kept the Ukrainian in the match.

Osaka wasted three set point opportunities, screeching in frustration as she sprayed the ball wide on both her forehand and backhand.

She finally converted a fourth opportunity when Svitolina netted a return but looked anxious heading into the second set.

She settled her nerves and took an early break, then held serve with an ace.

With the set at 3-0 in Osaka’s favour, Svitolina received treatment for an injury that also hampered her during a three-set fightback against China’s Zhang Shuai in the third round.

She struggled when play resumed, conceding a break then limply handing Osaka her seventh straight game in the next to make it 5-0.

She held serve to get on the board in the second set but it only delayed the inevitable as Osaka claimed victory after 72 minutes.

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