Can Naomi Osaka overcome another in-form opponent in the shape of Elise Mertens and reach the final of the Western…
Can Naomi Osaka overcome another in-form opponent in the shape of Elise Mertens and reach the final of the Western & Southern Open?
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Osaka vs Mertens is live from New York on Friday 28 August, 11am local/4pm BST
World no. 10 Osaka is looking to reach her first WTA final of 2020 – the perfect way to warm up for the forthcoming US Open, played on the same grounds as the relocated Cincinnati event, where Osaka will be bidding for her second title.
Osaka announced on Wednesday that she would not play the semifinal against Mertens in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, writing: ‘[I]f I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.’
The USTA, ATP and WTA then issued a joint statement announcing that the tournament would be ‘paused’ on Thursday and resume on Friday 28 August as tennis took a ‘stance against racial inequality’.
On Thursday, Osaka’s management released a statement confirming that she would play against Mertens on Friday at the request of the WTA, despite having been fully prepared to concede the match to the Belgian.
Full statement from Naomi Osaka about her decision to play on Friday. Released to the NYT by her management team pic.twitter.com/guRNjoPdBh
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) August 27, 2020
Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.
How to watch Osaka vs Mertens live
Western & Southern Open matches including Naomi Osaka vs Elise Mertens are streamed live alongside odds and in-play betting at bet365.
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Osaka vs Mertens: Head-to-head
The head-to-head between Osaka and Mertens is 1-1. Mertens won in three sets in Wuhan in 2017, while Osaka won in the city of her birth last September, 6-4, 6-1.
Osaka vs Mertens: Preview
The only top-10 player left in the Western & Southern Open draw, Naomi Osaka looked very much like she might be Wednesday’s first seeded casualty on the women’s side as she trailed the in-form Anett Kontaveit 4-6, 0-2. Kontaveit had reached the final of the Palermo Open on clay in the first week of the restarted WTA Tour and had not dropped a set on her way to the quarterfinals despite facing some tough opponents.
But Kontaveit also had an 0-3 record vs Osaka and as the match went on, it became clear why that was. Both women are very powerful baseliners with big serves, but Osaka is both more explosive and more creative, finding angles which elude the more predictable Kontaveit. While both women’s level would rise and fall, Osaka’s top level in the match was higher than Kontaveit’s – and it showed as she reeled off six straight games to take the second set before racing to a 3-0 lead. Kontaveit got back on serve and the battle was intense down the stretch, but Osaka managed to avoid being taken to a third-set tie-break when she broke at the death to win 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 and improve to 4-0 vs Kontaveit.
Like Kontaveit, Mertens prepared for the two-tournament US Open swing by reaching the final of a clay-court International, finishing runner-up to Simona Halep in Prague. The benefit of the added matches after such a lengthy absence from competition for all players has been clear at the Western & Southern Open, where she began by dropping just two games against Rebecca Peterson. The world no. 22 dropped a tie-break set against Kristina Mladenovic, but has otherwise remained blemish-free in wins over Veronika Kudermetova, who had knocked out top seed Karolina Pliskova, and finally qualifier Jessica Pegula. Mertens’s 6-1, 6-3 victory over in-form Pegula, who had ousted Lexington champion Jennifer Brady and fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka, saw the Belgian matching Pegula’s aggression but playing much more smartly, using drop shots, lobs and volleys – all executed very well – in addition to powering off the baseline. Mertens also defended very well, defying Pegula to hit through her and leading the American to commit a lot of errors.
Will Osaka do the same? It depends on what kind of day she’s having. If Osaka is serving well, she will be able to get on the front foot in rallies and then use her shotmaking, especially on the forehand, to open up the court, overwhelming Mertens’s defense. If she’s not, or if the balance of winners to unforced errors is tilted too far towards the latter, then Mertens stands a real chance of snapping her seven-match losing streak against top-10 players.