In a potentially gripping final, recent US Open champion Naomi Osaka will look to claim her second title in as many tournaments when she takes on fourth seed Karolina Pliskova. Not since Victoria Azarenka in 2012 has a player won their first tournament after a maiden Grand Slam triumph, but Osaka has been playing some excellent tennis and will surely receive the vocal backing of her home crowd. Pliskova, however, has the quality to trouble anyone. Who will come out on top?
This will be the third Tour-level meeting between Osaka and Pliskova and the second this year. Their first clash came last season in Toronto at the Canadian Open in the third round. Pliskova made a fast start, winning the opening set 6-2, but Osaka battled back to level proceedings in the second only to have to retire early in the third. But she had her revenge in the quarterfinals in Indian Wells this March, dismissing Pliskova 6-2 6-3 and going on to win the title.
Path to the final
Osaka began her tournament, after a first-round bye, with a convincing 6-2 6-1 win over former Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova. She backed that victory up with another dominant performance to defeat eighth seed Barbora Strycova in the quarterfinals. That set up a clash with Wimbledon quarterfinalist Camila Giorgi in the last four. Osaka played another excellent match and ran out a deserved 6-2 6-3 victor to reach the final.
Pliskova, who also enjoyed a first-round bye, has found her passage to the title-match rather less straightforward. She opened her campaign by rallying from a set down to oust Australia’s Daria Gavrilova 4-6 6-4 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals where she faced Alison Riske. She made a fast start, winning the first set 6-1, but thereafter was made to work hard for the victory, but ultimately emerged a 6-1 6-7 7-6 victor. She then reached the final with a battling 6-2 4-6 6-3 win over Donna Vekic.
How do they match up?
Neither Osaka nor Pliskova like to play on the defensive and with the weapons that they can call upon that is no surprise. This season Osaka has managed, for the most part, to find the right mixture of power and accuracy from the baseline as a result she has been unplayable at times. Her 6-3 6-0 demolition of Simona Halep, one of the Tour’s best defenders, in the Indian Wells semifinals a particularly memorable display of her attacking power.
The Japanese is able to hit through her opponents with both her forehand and backhand though she favours the former slightly. But her serve, though reliable, is not a particularly effective weapon. The same cannot be said of Pliskova, who is excellent at the line. She served well against Vekic, making 78% of her first serves, winning 71% of those points, and will need to find similar numbers against Osaka who she cannot match off the ground.
Pliskova should provide Osaka with the sternest test she has faced yet in Tokyo. But she looks to be in good position to pass it. All week, she has continued the scintillating form that took her all the way to the US Open title and no opponent has been able to hold a candle to her. And Pliskova, for all her quality, has struggled to beat the game’s very best this year and is without a top ten win since May. Expect a straight sets Osaka victory.