U.S. Open: Naomi Osaka finishes strong to avoid third-round upset
Naomi Osaka spiked her racket after one errant forehand late in the second set at the U.S. Open, then flung it the length of the baseline after a missed backhand return ceded that tiebreaker.
Sometimes, that’s the sort of reaction it takes to right things for Osaka. And, perhaps surprisingly, she needed whatever push she could get in Friday’s third-round match.
Facing an opponent competing in just her second major tournament, two-time Grand Slam champion Osaka eventually figured out a way to turn a tight one into a runaway and beat 18-year-old Marta Kostyuk 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-2 by claiming the final five games at Flushing Meadows.
“While I was playing, honestly, I was cursing myself out,” Osaka said during an on-court interview afterward, “so you wouldn’t want to know what I was saying.”
After taking things out on her racket, Osaka sat with a white towel draped over head during a changeover.
“It’s what I do in times of extreme anger and frustration,” she said.
Still, she improved to 7-0 since tennis resumed after a hiatus of more than five months because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Naomi Osaka vs. Marta Kostyuk highlights.
Another past U.S. Open champion moving into the fourth round Friday was 2016 titlist Angelique Kerber, who defeated 20-year-old American Ann Li 6-3, 6-4. Kerber’s next opponent is another American, 28th-seeded Jennifer Brady, a 6-3, 6-3 winner against Caroline Garcia.
In the previous round, Garcia upset top-seeded Karolina Pliskova.
Next up for Osaka will be big hitter Anett Kontaveit, an Estonian seeded 14th. She had a much easier time in a 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 24 Magda Linette.
Men reaching the fourth round included No. 7 David Goffin, No. 20 Pablo Carreno Busta, Jordan Thompson and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
Top-seeded Novak Djokovic was scheduled to play at night against No. 28 Jan-Lennard Struff.
In an odd and unexplained delay, the third-round match between No. 5 seed Alexander Zverev and No. 32 Adrian Mannarino began more than 2½ hours later than planned in Louis Armstrong Stadium.
The U.S. Tennis Assn. described the holdup in vague terms, saying only there was “a collaborative dialogue with health officials” and that the players were “updated at all times.”
The USTA added in its statement that no other details would be provided because of what it called “the sensitivity of the medical issues involved.”
Mannarino is part of a group of seven players under extra restrictions during the tournament because contact tracing determined they potentially could have been exposed to COVID-19 by Benoit Paire, the only entrant to test positive.
The Lakers, Clippers and Dodgers are having great seasons, something not lost on fans who can’t celebrate with them in person because of COVID-19.
With shadows creeping across the Arthur Ashe Stadium court in the early afternoon, the 137th-ranked Kostyuk certainly had her chances to pull off a significant surprise.
The key moment: Kostyuk held five break points that could have given her a 3-1 lead in the final set.
“A turning point,” Osaka would say later.
She fended off every one of those and held to 2-2, beginning her match-closing run.
“I’m kind of scared how she’s going to be in the future,” said Osaka, who played with tape wrapping her left hamstring, which has been a problem since last week. “She has no fear.”
Kostyuk had her own issues: She twice took a medical timeout to have a trainer tape her right ankle.
But she also was able to control the outcomes of points for stretches, winning 19 of the 23 points when she went to the net. The Ukrainian teen also delivered more winners than Osaka, 36-30, over the match’s 2½ hours.
“I guess I would say the thing that made me most displeased was probably the decisions that I was making and the fact that I started becoming way too passive,” Osaka said, “and hoping that she would, you know, make an unforced error.”
Before and after the match, Osaka wore a mask bearing the name of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was fatally shot after being pursued by armed white men in Georgia.
Each time on court during the tournament, Osaka is wearing a different mask in memory of a victim of racial injustice.
“None of these deaths had to happen,” Osaka said. “For me, I just want everyone to know the names more.”
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