Karolina Pliskova (CZE) vs.  Naomi Osaka (JPN)
In their one previous encounter last year, Osaka pushed Pliskova to three sets; thus, last night’s match had the potential to be explosive. Osaka seems to be finally putting all the pieces together. She is fitter and playing smarter tennis, both factors are contributing to her growing confidence and better results.
Osaka started the tournament with a dominant performance over Maria Sharapova, beating the former number one and two-time Indian Wells champion in straight sets. Since then, she has only gotten better. She comprehensively dismantled Agnieszka Radwanska’s game in the second round. So far the only player who threatened her was another young player, Maria Sakkari, in the previous round. Sakkari took the second set 7-5. Perhaps Osaka got a little anxious in that match; nevertheless, she re-grouped quickly and won the third set with the identical score of the first set, 6-1.
Pliskova has not been at her best so far this season; she continues to be hampered by her poor mobility and Osaka exploited that last night. Pliskova was a semifinalist at this tournament last year; however, she was flat and never got going. She was broken in her first service game and barely made an impression on Osaka’s serve. Pliskova, who is usually so dominant on her serve, won only fifty-three percent of her first serve and thirty-one percent on her second serve. Against a power hitter like Osaka, that was simply not going to cut it.
The second set was more competitive with Pliskova breaking Osaka twice; yet, I never got the impression that Pliskova was coming back to win this one. Pliskova did not break Osaka by hitting winners, Osaka got tentative and made errors. Nerves played a role in the second set as the young Japanese player realized that this would be a huge career move, the semifinals of a Premier Mandatory tournament. There were four consecutive breaks of serve to start the set before Osaka regained her composure and won the match 6-2, 6-3.
SOURCE OF IMAGES: serveandrally (Naomi Osaka)