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Naomi Osaka vs Mihaela Buzarnescu Nature Valley Open tennis live: Osaka and Buzarnescu face off to reach first grass-court semi-final in Nottingham

Andrew Hendrie in WTA Tour 15 Jun 2018
  • Naomi Osaka vs Michaela Buzarnescu is live from Nottingham around 3.30pm local time/BST on Friday
  • First career meeting between the pair
Naomi Osaka (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images for LTA)

Naomi Osaka and Mihaela Buzarnescu target their first WTA grass-court semi-final on Friday when they clash in the Nature Valley Open quarter-finals in Nottingham.

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Third seed Naomi Osaka and fifth seed Mihaela Buzarnescu square off in the Nature Valley Open quarter-finals on Friday in Nottingham. Both players haven’t competed much on grass at tour-level in their careers so far due to differing reasons, but Friday represents a fantastic chance for Osaka and Buzarnescu to reach a first semi-final on the surface and generate some more momentum before Wimbledon in a couple of week’s time. Osaka and Buzarnescu are both in the middle of career best seasons, but only one can prevail in Nottingham - who will it be? Osaka and Buzarnescu take to court around 3.30pm local time/BST on Friday.

Osaka has already notched up a milestone of sorts in Nottingham this week, winning her first back-to-back matches on grass outside of Wimbledon in order to advance into the quarter-finals. First up came a hard-fought three-set victory over USA’s Sachia Vickery in the opening round before Osaka stepped up her game and registered a dominant 6-3 6-2 win over Denisa Allertova in the second round on Wednesday. It was a clinical display from Osaka, with the Japanese star not facing a break point throughout the entire contest.

“I feel better about grass since I won, but so far it’s going really well for me,” Osaka said afterwards. “It’s always better for me to just play matches - I’m the type of person that when I play more matches, I play better.”

It’s true that Osaka has barely played on grass as she continues to rise up the WTA ranks. Last year she gradually improved on the surface during the short but chaotic grass season, losing in the first round of Nottingham before make the second rounds at Birmingham and Eastbourne. Osaka then finished with a third round finish at Wimbledon in her debut appearance at the All England Club, beating No. 22 seed Barbora Strycova before going down in a tight straight sets defeat to eventual runner-up Venus Williams.

Osaka ended 2017 with another third round appearance at the U.S. Open and a quarter-final in Hong Kong, but she’s taken her game to new heights in 2018, obviously highlighted by her stunning triumph at the Premier Mandatory BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, where she surged to maiden WTA title with spectacular wins over the likes of Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Sachia Vickery, Maria Sakkari, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and Daria Kasatkina. Osaka showcased just how devastating she can be when everything clicks, and it wasn’t just the calibre of players she beat during that fortnight, it was the manner in which she conquered them, losing just one set all tournament and not dropping more than three games in a set in back-to-back-to-back wins over Pliskova, Halep and Kasatkina.

Osaka hasn’t really been able to build on that run - she hadn’t made another quarter-final until this week in Nottingham - but there’s been some solid results, namely a Round of 16 showing in Charleston and a third round finish at the French Open, losing to Madison Keys. The 20-year-old has spoken of the increased pressure and expectation that now surrounds her following the Indian Wells victory, and it has taken some time for Osaka to come to grips with her new-found fame on the court. But perhaps she’s adjusting and is gearing up for a big grass season? One thing’s for sure, Osaka will need to play a very polished match to make it past her quarter-final opponent in Nottingham.

Mihaela Buzarnescu (Photo by ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Mihaela Buzarnescu has put together a seismic climb up the WTA rankings over the last 18 months and is arguably the most improved player on tour during that period. Ranked outside of the top 500 at the start of 2017 after an extended injury lay-off, Buzarnescu enjoyed a remarkable rise up the rankings ladder, beginning the season on the ITF circuit where she quickly amassed no fewer than seven titles, while after accumulating enough points to enter bigger tournaments, she qualified for her first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open, where she went down to Caroline Wozniacki in the opening round. After claiming another ITF crown on clay after New York, Buzarnescu tried her luck at WTA level towards the end of 2017 - and she proved she belongs at that level, qualifying for Linz and making it all the way to the semi-finals, beating Anett Kontaveit and Belinda Bencic along the way.

More strong results on the ITF circuit saw Buzarnescu finish the year at No. 56 in the world, but the Romanian was far from satisfied - and she’s continued to move up the rankings over the first six months of 2018. Buzarnescu started the season by reaching her first WTA final at the Hobart International, falling in three sets to Elise Mertens, while she also finished runner-up on the clay of Prague, this time losing to an on-fire Petra Kvitova (also in three sets). The 30-year-old went on to make the semi-finals of Strasbourg before registering her best Grand Slam result at the French Open, scoring a marquee win over fourth seed Elina Svitolina on her way to the Round of 16, where she eventually went down to Madison Keys.

Like Osaka, Buzarnescu doesn’t have much experience at tour-level on grass (due to her multiple injury lay-offs), but she’s proven she’s a quick learner, and the Romanian has fought her way into her first quarter-final on the surface in Nottingham, downing Veronica Cepede Royg and Irina Falconi in three sets. However, she faces a completely different sort of player in the powerful Osaka in the last eight.

The left-handed Buzarnescu can’t match Osaka in the power stakes, but she is an excellent retriever and mover - and if the Japanese star is misfiring and having an off day, the Romanian will make her pay. But on the other hand, grass favours attacking players and shotmakers - and with Osaka beginning to find her range, you’d fancy her to be striking the ball nicely on Friday. On a slower surface I’d be siding with Buzarnescu, but Osaka is finding her feet quickly on grass and has built up enough form this week to justify some confidence in her.

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Naomi Osaka vs Mihaela Buzarnescu Nature Valley Open tennis live: Osaka and Buzarnescu face off to reach first grass-court semi-final in Nottingham

Naomi Osaka and Mihaela Buzarnescu target their first WTA grass-court semi-final on Friday when they clash in the Nature Valley Open quarter-finals in Nottingham.

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