French Open champion Ashleigh Barty and Australian Open winner Naomi Osaka, who have battled over the world no. 1 ranking for much of 2019, meet for the first time this year in the China Open final.
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Despite passing the world no. 1 ranking back and forth for much of this season, Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka haven’t played each other in 2019 – that changes on Sunday as they face off in the final of the China Open in Beijing.
This will be the third meeting between Barty and Osaka, but the first since either became a Grand Slam champion – Osaka at the 2018 US Open, Barty at Roland Garros in June of this year – or world no. 1, a ranking Osaka claimed after winning her second major at the Australian Open in January and Barty after winning in Birmingham. Since June, the world no. 1 ranking has mainly been held by Barty but Osaka took it back before the US Open and both women have qualified for the WTA Finals Shenzhen.
Barty is looking for the second Premier Mandatory title of what has been an incredible season for the Australian, after triumphing at the Miami Open earlier this year. After a stretch of what you might call sub-par results for Barty – not terrible by any stretch of the imagination,, but she will have wanted to do better than fourth-round exits at Wimbledon and the US Open, and the manner of her defeat at the latter was particularly disappointing – she started to find her form again with a run to the Wuhan Open semifinals last week, and this week in Beijing she has been increasingly good, culminating in a pair of absolutely captivating high-quality tussles with Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens.
Indeed, I thought it wouldn’t get better than her quarterfinal against Kvitova, where she came from a set down to claim just her second win over the Czech in six attempts, but then Barty proved me wrong by saving a match point to beat Bertens 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(7) in a spellbinding two hours and 22 minutes.
Bertens is desperately trying to secure her place at the WTA Finals and threw everything at Barty in a gripping contest between two players with all-court games, but Barty managed to come back from a break down in the decider before edging the final, decisive tie-break and booking a place in her fifth final of 2019.
‘I thought the quality was exceptional from both of us at times. Win or lose, you come off feeling pretty good about it. Obviously, it sucks there’s only one winner,’ Barty said. ‘But I’m pretty happy with the way I was able to fight and dig in late in that third, as well.
‘I think Kiki has the ability to play a lot of different types of tennis as well. She can be very aggressive, she can drop back and make you play a lot of balls. That’s one of the biggest challenges about playing her, is you know she’s got options B, C and D, all the way through to be able to try to win the match.’
By contrast, Naomi Osaka’s 6-4, 6-2 victory over Caroline Wozniacki was relatively straightforward, but that didn’t mean it came entirely easy.
Not only did Osaka have to make a quick turnaround from a titanic struggle with Bianca Andreescu in the quarterfinals, but she was up against the defending champion in Beijing, and a player who had won both their previous encounters in straight sets.
In the early stages of the match, it was clear how Wozniacki had won those previous encounters as she soaked up Osaka’s power with her phenomenal defense and used her ability to sharpen angles even when on the run to drag Osaka into uncomfortable positions. But it’s been a tough season for the former world no. 1 , who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis last year, and it felt like she wasn’t able to sustain that level of intensity physically while Osaka, much as she had done against Andreescu, settled into calmer, smarter shotmaking. She saved all seven of the break points she faced and once she had secured the key break to put herself in charge of the first set, Osaka never allowed Wozniacki back into the match, ending with 30 winners and having won 76% points played behind her first serve.
Osaka said afterwards that she had only slept two hours after the match against Andreescu and was struggling with having to play such big matches back-to-back, and it’s certainly true that the big titles she’s won before – Indian Wells in 2018, the US Open and the Australian Open – have all involved rest days between matches. But the Japanese-Haitian player is now on a nine-match winning streak, having won the Toray Pan-Pacific Open title a few weeks ago, and has only dropped one set in those nine matches (vs Andreescu), securing her WTA Finals Shenzhen place on the way, and comes into this final with some serious momentum.
As aforementioned, Osaka and Barty have played twice before, both times in 2018 and both matches settled in straight sets: Osaka winning 6-4, 6-2 at the Australian Open, Barty winning 6-3, 6-4 in Birmingham. Given how uncomfortable Osaka is on grass and how comfortable Barty is, the Australian Open result should in theory be a better predictor, but Barty has improved immensely since that encounter almost two years ago, and has got so much better at consistently employing her aggressive weapons.
Osaka’s route to victory is the simpler one, because although Barty does have weapons, she doesn’t quite have as many or as powerful ones as Osaka, and if Osaka executes her game very well, playing first-strike tennis and serving as well as she has been recently, she should be the winner – but it will have to be a very good, very consistent performance to keep Barty from throwing her off her game. Can Osaka come up with the goods to claim the China Open title?
Osaka vs Barty China Open tennis is live from Beijing on Sunday at 4.30pm local/9.30am BST
Barty vs Osaka tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – A blockbuster Beijing final between two Grand Slam champions
French Open champion Ashleigh Barty and Australian Open winner Naomi Osaka, who have battled over the world no. 1 ranking…
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