Tennis

Osaka cool about meeting in-form Azarenka

Japanese teen ready to face 
in-form Azarenka

Dwelling too much on her achievement of reaching the Australian Open third round might "freak out" Japanese qualifier Naomi Osaka, so the teenager would much rather focus on taking down two-time former champion Victoria Azarenka.

The 127th-ranked Osaka, appearing in the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time, underlined her exciting potential with a 6-4, 6-4 defeat of 18th seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine yesterday.

The 18-year-old, who is based in the United States but competes for her mother's country, was still giddy by her achievement when she faced reporters post-match at Melbourne Park.

"Yeah, I'm pretty happy right now," she said. "I just wanted to qualify. That's all I was expecting.

"But I don't really like thinking about it too much because it freaks me out."

A third-round clash against 2012 and 2013 champion Azarenka now awaits and the Belarusian has been in red-hot form.

Azarenka hammered Montenegro's Danka Kovinic 6-1, 6-2 yesterday to progress to the third round, following up on her dominant "double bagel" 6-0, 6-0 first-round win against Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck.

Azarenka has dropped only three games and is on a seven-match winning streak, but the idea of being intimidated by her opponent's impressive credentials was lost on Osaka, who hopes to meet the former world No. 1 on Centre Court.

"I never feel pressure from playing someone who's supposed to be like better than me, sort of," she said.

"I'm just going to go in there happy and hopefully try to pull off an upset.

"I don't know. I feel like there's something wrong with me because I don't get excited or anything that much.

"Like, I just learn that I'm going to play someone and I'm like, 'Okay, I'm going to play them'. So I don't really do, like, background checks or anything to psych myself out."

Osaka, whose father is of Haitian heritage, won the inaugural WTA Rising Stars Invitational in Singapore last year and made a splash in 2014 by defeating Australian former US Open champion Sam Stosur at Stanford, her main-draw debut at a WTA event.

Although having lived in the US since she was a toddler, Osaka's development has caused excitement in Japan, and she gave ecstatic fans from the country a bow after beating Svitolina.

"Yeah, it's the only part of my Japanese side," she said of the gesture.

"Kind of because there were a lot of people cheering for me, and I kind of wanted to show how grateful I was.

"I always think that they're surprised that I'm Japanese. So the fact that there was like Japanese flags and stuff, it was, like, really touching."

Osaka will have to play the match of her life if she is to get the better of Azarenka, who said yesterday she was feeling in great shape "body-wise, spirit-wise, everything-wise".

After a torrid two years battling injuries, the 14th seed is back on a roll after re-evaluating her game and her life.

"For me, what I found interesting is that it was going the wrong way. You know, I had injuries, I had not much luck happening," she said.

"I wanted to look and assess what it is I can do better, what it is I can improve.

"First was, you know, getting healthy, and then trying to just enjoy.

"It comes pretty natural, but it did require a lot of self-work and really to start kind of accepting myself for, you know, failures that I had. And really just accept those and move forward, try to see what I can do better.

"I think I'm feeling in the best shape body-wise, spirit-wise, everything-wise. You know, my team around me too," she said.

"If you think about it, it's my 12th year being here in Australian Open. Almost half of my life. It's a long time.

"I still feel young and I think I still have a lot more years to play."

- Wire Services.

What's gone

Women's singles 2nd rd

  • Garbine Muguruza (x3) bt Kirsten Flipkens 6-4, 6-2
  • Angelique Kerber (x7) bt Alexandra Dulgheru 6-2, 6-4
  • Karolina Pliskova (x9) bt Julia Goerges 7-6 (7/5), 6-1
  • Annika Beck bt Timea Bacsinszky (x11) 6-2, 6-3
  • Victoria Azarenka (x14) bt Danka Kovinic 6-1, 6-2
  • Madison Keys (x15) bt Yaroslava Shvedova 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 6-3
  • Naomi Osaka bt Elina Svitolina (x18) 6-4, 6-4
  • Laura Siegemund bt Jelena Jankovic (x19) 3-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-4
  • Ana Ivanovic (x20) bt Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-3
  • Ekaterina Makarova (x21) bt Tatjana Malek 6-4, 6-2
  • Denisa Allertova bt Sabine Lisicki (x30) 6-3, 2-6, 6-4
  • Varvara Lepchenko bt Lara Arruabarrena 7-6 (9/7), 6-4
  • Barbora Zahlavova Strycova bt Vania King 7-6 (7/5), 6-4
  • Johanna Konta bt Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-3
  • Zhang Shuai bt Alize Cornet 6-3, 6-3
  • Madison Brengle bt Johanna Larsson 7-5, 4-6, 6-1.

 

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