Tsurenko up­sets sec­ond-seeded Osaka to reach Bris­bane fi­nal


The Malta Independent on Sunday - - SPORT -

She’s ranked No. 5 in the world, will en­ter the sea­son-open­ing ma­jor as a reign­ing Grand Slam cham­pion, and is try­ing not to sulk.

A lot has hap­pened for Naomi Osaka since she beat Ser­ena Wil­liams in the US Open fi­nal last Septem­ber, and she’s still com­ing to terms with it. Mostly, it’s the ex­pec­ta­tions.

She has reached the semi­fi­nals or bet­ter at four of her last five tour­na­ments but hasn’t added an­other ti­tle.

A 6-2, 6-4 loss to No. 27-ranked Leisa Tsurenko on Satur­day cost sec­ond-seeded Osaka a place in the Bris­bane In­ter­na­tional fi­nal and a move up to the No. 3 world rank­ing – which would be a record high for a player from Ja­pan.

“If I’m be­ing re­ally frank, I just feel like I had like the worst at­ti­tude to­day,” the 21-year-old Osaka said. “I feel like I didn’t re­ally know how to cope with not play­ing well.”

She dropped two ser­vice games in the first and went down an early break in the sec­ond but had chances to get even in the sixth game, when she had two break points but com­mit­ted a string of un­forced er­rors and Tsurenko held for 4-2.

Osaka kicked the air at one point and dropped her racket to the court af­ter miss­ing an­other, be­fore vis­i­bly ques­tion­ing how she could be get­ting it so wrong when her fore­hand skewed wide on game point.

“I was sulk­ing a lit­tle bit, and like there are mo­ments that I tried not to do that. But then the ball wouldn’t go in, and then I would go back to be­ing like child­ish and stuff,” Osaka said. “So I think like that was sort of my main prob­lem to­day.

“I feel like last year I did a lot of that, and I’m try­ing to change it more, and I think I have – like to­ward the end of last year. Hope­fully this isn’t like a re­cur­ring thing.”

Ja­panese flags were still wav­ing in the crowd at Pat Rafter Arena for the next match, when No. 2-seeded Kei Nishikori de­feated Jeremy Chardy 6-2, 6-2 in 66 min­utes.

“Felt very good phys­i­cally and, ten­nis-wise, I think it was per­fect,” Nishikori said.

He’ll play ei­ther Jo-Wil­fried Tsonga or fourth-seeded Daniil Medvedev in to­day’s fi­nal, where he’s hop­ing to claim his first ti­tle since Mem­phis in 2016.

Tsurenko is 4-0 in fi­nals, and is hop­ing to ex­tend that streak when she takes on the win­ner of the Donna Ve­kic-Karolina Pliskova semi­fi­nal.

Tsurenko had lost both pre­vi­ous en­coun­ters to Osaka, in­clud­ing their US Open quar­ter­fi­nal.

From 15-40 down in the ninth, Osaka saved two match points with aces, got the ad­van­tage with an au­da­cious drop shot and then held with an ace to Tsurenko had to serve out.

Tsurenko went on the at­tack, earned an­other two match points with a vol­ley win­ner and clinched it with the sec­ond of those.

She has grown in con­fi­dence since her trip to the US Open quar­ter­fi­nals, and is play­ing with more ag­gres­sion.

“I don’t want to say that this was my best ten­nis, but it was quite a high level,” Tsurenko said. “I feel I can kind of han­dle ev­ery kind of en­sure pres­sure on court now, even when some­one like Naomi is play­ing re­ally strong.”

Osaka is hav­ing to deal with dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions now.

“Be­fore, I would just be ner­vous to be there in a way, and now I feel ner­vous be­cause I think I should win ... and I feel like peo­ple ex­pect me to win,” she said. “So that’s like an added amount of nerves. But, I mean, I feel like I’m get­ting used to it.”

Osaka will con­tinue her prepa­ra­tions for the Aus­tralian Open, which starts Jan. 14 in Mel­bourne, with an em­pha­sis on try­ing to not to sulk when things are go­ing wrong.

“In a way this ex­pe­ri­ence for me is bet­ter than win­ning the tour­na­ment, be­cause like this help­less feel­ing I have, I think to­day I learned sort of what I ... I can do to like im­prove the sit­u­a­tion,” she said. “There aren’t many mo­ments that I feel like that. But, yeah, I feel like to­day was a very valu­able les­son.”

Naomi Osaka talks to her coach Sascha Ba­jin, left, dur­ing her semi­fi­nal match against Le­sia Tsurenko Photo: AP

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