If there’s a one-word message Naomi Osaka delivered to Serena Williams, Simona Halep and Ash Barty in her blink-and-you-miss-it quarter-final, it’s ‘beware’.
Beware of the first serve. Beware of the remarkable footwork. And most of all, beware of the Japanese third seed’s resolve since surviving two match points on Sunday.
Osaka’s rivalry with first-time grand slam quarter-finalist Hsieh Su-Wei has traditionally delivered intense clashes of style and was anticipated to be another box-office smash (each of their previous hardcourt matches went to three sets).
But Melbourne’s 2019 title winner tapped into her instincts from the first ball, rocketing 24 winners past the wily Taiwanese journeywoman on her way to a 66-minute 6-2 6-2 victory.
“Well, I felt like today I told myself just to be really intense from the beginning,” Osaka said post-match.
“I played [Hsieh] so many times, I felt like I knew what to expect and that I couldn’t afford to be lazy with my footwork or anything. I didn’t want to play three sets today.”
Earlier in the tournament, Osaka described Hsieh’s crafty approach to tennis like that of a character she would pick in a video game, thanks to Hsieh’s ‘unfathomable’ ability to hit winners and change direction at will.
But Osaka was dialled in from the first game, setting the tone for the match with a 194km/h first serve to save a break point.
Some big serving, combined with controlled discipline off her thunderous forehand, netted Osaka the first break of the match and secured a second in the eighth game to round out the opening set.
With the highest-paid female athlete 12 for 12 on first-serve points in the opener, Hsieh started the second on the back foot as Osaka held easily, before drawing a head-high forehand metres behind Osaka’s baseline to relinquish an early break.
From there, Osaka continued to dictate the match from the back of the court, and found her way to gain the upper hand as Hsieh could not find a way into her service games.
As the match – the first at grand slam level featuring players from two Asian nations – drew to its end, there were some glimpses of the exceptional potential of this match up.
Two points, near-identical, saw the crafty Hsieh drag Osaka from sideline to sideline with precision over pace, before she ventured to the net – a rarity in the match – to tap a deft drop volley on one, and a searing backhand winner on the other.
But it simply wasn’t enough, as an earth-shattering forehand return gave Osaka the lone match point she required.
Osaka will play either 23-time grand slam singles champion Serena Williams or Romanian second seed Simona Halep for a spot in Saturday’s final.
” I think my confidence [has] raised after I played Muguruza the other day just because she’s such a quality opponent, and like my back was against the wall. Somehow I still had opportunities,” the soft-spoken Osaka said.
Alcott and Davidson combine for fourth doubles title
They did it the hard way.
But the pairing of Melbourne Park fan favourite Dylan Alcott and fellow Australian Heath Davidson have secured a fourth consecutive quad wheelchair doubles title after being pushed to a match tiebreak.
After winning the first set in a canter, the pair surrendered a one-set lead to Brit Andy Lapthorne and American David Wagner before pulling away for a famous 6-2 3-6 10-7 victory.
“It is our 20-year anniversary … which is incredible,” Alcott said.
“I’m really proud of [Heath]. He had eight years off the sport, had some things in his life going on. Now we’ve won four Australian Opens on the trot. I am super proud of you.”
Alcott, who has been exceptionally vocal in his crowdless singles and doubles matches this week, was vociferous early as Davidson led the charge with winners flying off his racquet.
But the British/US pairing steeled themselves on serve in the second set, only coughing up one break while manufacturing three breaks of the Australians’ serve.
Heading into the match tiebreak, the Australian pairing honed their radar on their opponents’ first serve to snare four out of five of those points.
In the end, it proved the difference.
After squandering two match points, Alcott and Davidson wheeled their way through an extended exchange scattered with smashes, lobs and driving groundstrokes, before eventually drawing an error.