Osaka, who is yet to secure qualification for the WTA Finals Shenzhen although she is next in line to do so, is trying to reach the quarterfinals in Beijing for the second straight year, having made the semifinals in 2018 – but she will have a very tough task to do so against Riske, who is playing the best tennis of her career and having brilliant results.
The world no. 4 is now on a six-match winning streak, having rebounded from her fourth-round defeat at the US Open at the hands of Belinda Bencic by capturing her first title on home soil at the Toray Pan-Pacific Open in Osaka, where she beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the final. Indeed, Osaka has not dropped a set since losing to Bencic in New York, having stormed through the field in the city of her birthplace in exuberant fashion to claim her second title of 2019 and her first at the tournament where she’s finished runner-up on two previous occasions, and won her opening two matches in Beijing in straight sets as well.
Osaka had a decently tough time of it with Washington, D.C. champion Jessica Pegula in the first round before winning it 6-3, 7-6(5), but against Andrea Petkovic in the second round on Wednesday she absolutely cruised in impressive style, striking five aces and 21 winners with only 11 unforced errors as she crushed the German veteran 6-2, 6-0.
‘I just tried to be very aggressive,’ Osaka said afterwards. ‘I feel like she wants to be close to the baseline most of the time. Right off the bat I felt like I had to get her moving. I think I did that well.’
Osaka is trying to make the quarterfinals of a Premier Mandatory for the second time in 2019, having failed to do so as the defending champion at Indian Wells or in Miami but making the last eight in Madrid before losing to Bencic.
Alison Riske will have other ideas. The 29-year-old American’s career-best season first caught fire on what has always been her favourite surface, grass, on which she compiled a 14-2 win-loss record, triumphing at the ITF $100k in Surbiton, the WTA Tour International event in ‘s-Hertogenbosch where she claimed her second career title and Wimbledon, where she made her first Grand Slam quarterfinal, ousting top seed Ashleigh Barty on the way.
But Riske has always flourished on Asian hard courts too, with her other career WTA Tour title having come in Tianjin in 2014 as well as having reached finals in Tianjin and Shenzhen in 2016 and Shenzhen in 2017 and 2019, this year finishing runner-up to Aryna Sabalenka. And although she went 1-2 in Zhengzhou and Osaka (that one win coming over Angelique Kerber, mind you), at the Premier-5 Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open Riske produced her best ever performance at a tournament of that calibre, beating 2018 semifinalist Wang Qiang, world no. 3 Elina Svitolina and world no. 7 (and two-time Wuhan champion) Petra Kvitova to reach the biggest final of her career.
Defeated by Sabalenka, who successfully defended her Wuhan title, Riske has survived longer in the Beijing draw than the Belarusian; benefiting from a first-round bye along with the other Wuhan semifinalists, Riske opened her China Open campaign with a hard-fought 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Ajla Tomljanovic and is now looking to make the quarterfinals in Beijing for the first time.
Osaka and Riske have played just once before and although Riske did win that one, it’s probably not a match to read too much into: It came in qualifying for the Madrid Open, on clay, in 2016 and Riske won 7-5, 3-2 when Osaka retired. Neither woman plays their best on clay but Riske was probably more comfortable on it at that point than Osaka, and the Japanese-Haitian player was obviously not physically at her best.
That’s not to say that Riske isn’t a real threat to win this match, because she is playing so well and with such confidence and aggression at the moment, and her flat hitting can pose a tough challenge to tall players. But Osaka just delivered a masterclass in how to keep a player who wants to play aggressive tennis from being a factor in the match with her own superb hitting. The world no. 4 seems to be in a good rhythm at the moment and when it all comes down to it, she’s a more explosive, heavier hitter than Riske and should be able to extend her winning streak – and make the China Open quarterfinals.
Osaka vs Riske China Open tennis is live from Beijing on Thursday at 2pm local/6am BST
Osaka vs Riske tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Osaka on six-match winning streak heading into China Open clash
Naomi Osaka hasn’t dropped a set since the US Open – can she keep her winning streak going against Wuhan…
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