WTA Auckland quarterfinal preview: Ana Konjuh vs Naomi Osaka

WTA Auckland quarterfinal preview: Ana Konjuh vs Naomi Osaka

Eighth seed Ana Konjuh takes on 2015 WTA Rising Star winner Naomi Osaka in the first meeting between the young talents for a place in the Auckland semifinals.

Becky Walker

For fans of the emerging, young talents on the WTA circuit, on paper, this matchup between Naomi Osaka and Ana Konjuh should showcase why the rising stars are proving they can compete with the very best. With only one place between them in the rankings (Konjuh ranked at 47 and Osaka at 48) we can expect a relatively close match, especially as this will be the first meeting between the pair.

Having never played each other before on the tour, this matchup is an exciting prospect for fans as we get to see two young, rising stars pit their wits against each other in what should be a powerful encounter with flashes of brilliance from both sides of the net.

Road to the quarterfinals

Due to the rain delays, the eighth seed had to face two Belgians in one day in order to make the quarterfinals. First was Kirsten Flipkens who proved a stern test for Konjuh, with the match lasting 2 hours and 4 minutes, the Croatian taking it 6-4 3-6 6-3. There wasn't much rest for Konjuh who then had to face Yanina Wickmayer in the second round only a few hours later. Luckily for her this match was relatively straight-forward; a 6-1 6-2 win in just under an hour.

Another victim of the rain, the 19-year-old Osaka had to wait a day to finish her round one match with the German Annika Beck. After a relatively straightforward first set, the second set was a lot closer with both players exchanging a few breaks of serve. Osaka came through 6-2 6-4 to set up a mouthwatering clash with Venus Williams. However, this sadly didn't happen as Venus withdrew from the match citing injury. Therefore Osaka received a walkover into the quarterfinal.

The result?

Both players have experience at the highest level so nerves shouldn't really be a factor in this match.

Konjuh has won a WTA International tournament before, at Nottingham, where she became the youngest winner of a WTA Tour title since 2006 at the age of 17. Grass courts seem to be a particularly good surface for the Croatian as she was a few games away from beating Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round of Wimbledon 2016. Also, she reached a career-best quarterfinal at the US Open 2016 where she lost to eventual finalist Karolina Pliskova, proving that her game is versatile on different surfaces.

Naomi Osaka is also no stranger to the big stage, having reached the third round of every Grand Slam she played last season. She also reached the final of her home tournament, the WTA Premier in Tokyo where she lost to Caroline Wozniacki. However, she can struggle to close out matches as was evident in the third round at the 2016 US Open where she had a 5-1 lead in the third set against Madison Keys, only to lose the match in a third set tiebreak

Both players are good from the baseline with powerful groundstrokes, so we can expect quite a few explosive shots from both sides of the net. Also, both players have a strong serve so they will be looking to gain some free points where possible. The Croatian also likes to add variety to her play so expect a few drop shots and lobs to try and catch Osaka out, as the Japanese number two predominantly likes to manipulate the play with powerful groundstrokes from the baseline.

If Konjuh is to win, she will need to make sure that she adds variety to her game as she may not be able to hit Osaka off the court. For Osaka to win, she'll need her serve to be working well so she can gain some free points.

This match will be third on Centre Court with the winner facing either the third seed Caroline Wozniacki or the German Julia Goerges. 

Prediction: Osaka in three sets.