Another seed bites the dust… Naomi Osaka produced a stunning performance to defeat the number six seed and defending US Open champion, Angelique Kerber, 6-3 6-1 under the roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium on a damp day in New York. This was Osaka’s first top ten win as Kerber became the third top ten player to exit the tournament after Simona Halep and Johanna Konta following an eventful start to the tournament.
This was Osaka’s first match since pulling out of her third rounder in Toronto against Karolina Pliskova with an abdominal injury. After a subdued start, Osaka grew into the match and played the big points well, especially in the first set. Osaka saved the first break point of the match at 2-2 *30-40 and began to get the crowd going, holding serve with three straight winners off extended rallies. Kerber didn’t look right on serve and she seemed to briefly hold her side/back midway through the set. Still, she held to 3-3, producing arguably her shot of the match, getting down low with a forehand winner that she arrowed beautifully down-the-line.
Kerber came under pressure in her next service game with Osaka leading 4-3. The timing wasn’t quite there for Osaka on her backhand side as she missed a passing shot opportunity off that wing into the net. However, the Japanese player stayed on the attack and pounced on short balls from Kerber to get to deuce. Another double fault from Kerber, her fifth of the set, offered up a first break point for Osaka, which she duly converted.
Osaka was clutch on the big points and saved two break points to serve out the set, 6-3. Kerber found winners off both sides to carve open the opportunity, yet Osaka rallied with some crackers of her own – a backhand winner, followed by a magnificent forehand passing shot winner (see below).
Osaka began to roll in the second set, winning five games in a row to go up an early break as Kerber’s second serve became increasingly vulnerable. Kerber did produce her best service game to get on the board in the second set, but Osaka was beginning to play better and better. The flashes of brilliance became more sustained and Osaka’s forehand was simply sensational – the Japanese player produced a game of forehand winners to hold to 3-1, the best of the lot on game point with a delicious angle.
Kerber seemed to run out of ideas, going after her shots but with less margin. Osaka’s level never really dropped in the second set and she broke Kerber’s serve for the fourth time in the match to wrap up the win in just 64 minutes.
The winners to unforced errors differential for each set was as follows:
Set 1: Osaka 10-12, Kerber 5-13
Set 2: Osaka 12-5, Kerber 4-10
Match: Osaka 22-17, Kerber 9-23
I cannot believe this was Osaka’s first top ten win! I really liked how she handled herself on court – note that Osaka had let slip a 5-1 third set lead in her last appearance on Arthur Ashe Stadium against Madison Keys in the third round of the 2016 US Open. Osaka is such a talent and her forehand was totally in the zone today. I remember watching her play in Eastbourne and being taken aback by how hard she can hitttt the ball – of all the players I watched, her power was the most breathtaking.
Osaka was stable on serve, saving four break points, and both aggressive and consistent off the ground. She did really well to take advantage of Kerber’s increasingly laboured serve – the German player won just 37% of points behind her second serve.
For Kerber, this was sad to watch. I do think there was a physical issue there although the serve has never been a weapon and has looked particularly weak in 2017. There were a handful of decent shots in there and I thought Kerber was hitting the ball OK, although a little too often being dictated and just generally looking flat. On many occasions, it was simply too good from Osaka. Kerber had shown some promising signs in a fourth round loss to Garbiñe Muguruza at Wimbledon, yet that hasn’t translated forward onto hard courts where she has posted a 1-3 W-L record since SW19.
This was tenth time lucky for Osaka in scoring her first ever top ten win! Her previous best win had come in Tokyo towards the end of 2016 when she defeated the then world number 12, Dominika Cibulkova.
Osaka takes Kerber’s place in the draw and it looks very favourable going forward. Next up in the second round will be either Denisa Allertova or Rebecca Peterson. The other seed in this section, Lesia Tsurenko, also lost on Tuesday to Yanina Wickmayer and in exactly the same scoreline as Osaka-Kerber!