World No. 4, Naomi Osaka continues her China Open bid on Tuesday when she squares off against former top-ten star, Andrea Petkovic in the second round.
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Osaka is well on course to qualify for the season-ending WTA Finals for the second straight year, as she is currently fifth in the Race to Shenzhen. The four players above her in the race- Ashleigh Barty, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu have all qualified for the year-end showdown.
The two-time major winner is currently on a five-match winning streak, having put together four wins in a title run in Osaka, and opened her Beijing campaign with 6-3 7-6 victory over American, Jessica Pegula.
That Osaka success was just her second title of the season, and her first since she won the Australian Open in January. The Japanese superstar took over the world No. 1 ranking after claiming a second consecutive major at the Australian Open, adding to her stunning US Open success from the previous season, but she could not quite match that Melbourne level over the next months, making just the one semi-final, in Stuttgart, in her next 12 tournaments.
Her US Open title defence ended in a fourth-round exit to Belinda Bencic, a result that pulled her down from No. 1 to No. 4 in the world. Osaka bounced back from that disappointment with a special title run at the Pan Pacific Open in Osaka, winning her first title in the city of her birth. Could that be the spark to a strong finish to the season?
She struck eight aces in her Beijing opener against Pegula, converting 76% of points on her first serves. The 21-year-old could have closed out the match a little earlier, as she broke for 6-5 in the second set, earning the chance to serve out the match, but she gave back the break immediately, pushing the set into a tie break. Osaka lead 4-1, and then trailed 4-5, but she won the final three points to take the win after an hour and 33 minutes.
Next up for the 2018 Beijing semi-finalist is a meeting with German qualifier, Andrea Petkovic.
After getting past Xinyun Han and Marie Bouzkova (via retirement) in the qualifying rounds, Petkovic opened her China Open main draw campaign with a 7-6 6-3 victory over Jil Teichmann, earning a second meeting with Osaka as a consequence.
The German won their only previous encounter in Stanford back in 2014. Fair to say, a lot has changed over the last five years.
It’s easy to forget that Petkovic was a finalist in Beijing in 2011, the season she made quarter finals at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and the US Open, and first broke into the top ten, but she was bothered by injuries in the following season, and was out of the top-100 by the end of the 2012 season. Petkovic battled back into the top ten in 2015, but she soon drifted out again, and has spent most of the last couple of seasons in the lower half of the top 100.
The former world No. 9 played some of her most consistent tennis towards the end of last season, making semi-finals in Washington, Guangzhou and Linz, and ending with a quarter final in Luxembourg to reach a year-end ranking of 64th, but she has struggled through 2019, and is currently ranked 82nd in the world.
The 32-year-old has won back-to-back matches in only two tournaments this year, at Roland Garros and Flushing Meadows, and is only 12-16 for the season.
Petkovic has 14 top-ten wins to her name, including one this year against Petra Kvitova at the US Open.
She’s a difficult second round opponent for Osaka, especially if she finds anything close to her best form, but the Osaka has been playing very well lately, and should be too good for Petkovic in Tuesday’s Beijing meeting.
Naomi Osaka vs Andrea Petkovic is live from Beijing on Tuesday, 1 October from 2:30pm local time/ 7:30pm BST