WTA Stuttgart first round preview: Johanna Konta vs Naomi Osaka

Sixth seed Johanna Konta returns to the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart looking to get her European clay court season off to a good start. The 25-year-old had an emotional weekend in Romania as she represented Great Britain in a Fed Cup World Group II play-off tie with Romania against Sorana Cirstea and Simona Halep in both of her singles matches. Romania's Fed Cup captain Ilie Nastase, two-time Grand Slam champion tarnished his reputation as he bad mouthed the umpire along with abusing Konta and Konta's Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong. Furthermore, Konta's match with Cirstea was briefly halted as the Brit was in tears, nevertheless, she continued her match against Cirstea and won, unfortunately, she was completely outplayed by Halep in the other singles rubber and Romania ultimately won the tie. 

Osaka's notable results leading up to Stuttgart

Konta will put that emotionally draining weekend behind her as she has a tough first round encounter in Stuttgart with 19-year-old Naomi Osaka. Japan's number one has a respectable 8-6 win-loss record in 2017 along with being ranked inside the top 50 at 46 in the world. So far, Osaka has not lost in the first round of any tournament in 2017, and she will do remarkably well to keep up that record in Stuttgart. The 19-year-old reached the quarterfinals in Auckland at the ASB Classic but withdrew in the quarterfinals against Ana Konjuh, and at the Australian Open, Konta eased past Osaka in the second round. Americans Christina McHale and Madison Keys defeated Osaka in straight sets in Dubai and the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells respectively. The talented player dispatched Kristina Kucova, 6-2, 6-3 in the first round in Miami, and once again she had a three-set thriller with Halep, who defeated her in the third round of the French Open last year. Osaka began her clay court season on the green clay courts of Charleston at the Family Circle Cup. The Japanese player was unseeded, nevertheless, she recorded a good first round victory over Johanna Larsson in three sets, and Zhang Shuai for the second time, however, last year's French Open quarterfinalist Shelby Rogers defeated Osaka in straight sets to stop her from reaching her second quarterfinal of the year.

Osaka will be looking for good things to come in 2017 (Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images)
Osaka will be looking for good things to come in 2017 (Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images)

Konta's notable results leading up to Stuttgart

The Brit's mesmerizing charge up the rankings is simply outstanding. Konta has reached the quarterfinals or better at every tournament, she has participated in except for one. The sixth seed reached the semifinals in Shenzhen losing to eventual champion Katerina Siniakova, however, she bounced back the following week, claiming her second Premier title in her birthplace of Sydney, having plenty of fans backing her throughout her title charge. Konta didn't drop a set throughout the week, recording very good wins over Arina Rodionova, Daria Gavrilova, Daria Kasatkina, Eugenie Bouchard and Agnieszka Radwanska easily. Once again, the Brit traveled to Melbourne, defending semifinal points at the Australian Open, Konta embarked on a nine-match winning streak, recording more impressive victories over Kirsten Flipkens, Osaka, Caroline Wozniacki and Ekaterina Makarova. However, world number one Serena Williams thrashed Konta, 6-2, 6-3 in the quarterfinals, who went on to win her seventh title in Melbourne.

Konta's North American hard court season at the Premier Mandatory events in Indian Wells and Miami were very strong. Konta defeated compatriot and Fed Cup teammate Heather Watson in the second round but France's Caroline Garcia came back from a set down to dispatch the world number seven in three sets in the Californian Desert. Furthermore, at the Miami Open, Konta claimed the biggest title of her career to date by recording back-to-back victories over Halep, Venus Williams and Wozniacki in the last three rounds to claim the title in Miami.

The 6th seed will be looking to continue her good run of form during the clay court season (Source: Getty Images)
The 6th seed will be looking to continue her good run of form during the clay court season (Source: Getty Images)

Their history

The sixth seed and Osaka have met on two occasions with Konta winning both previous encounters in straight sets. Both of their meetings have taken place at Grand Slams on hard courts. In the second round of the US Open in 2015, Konta dispatched Osaka, 6-4, 6-4 en route to reaching the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career. The Brit eased past the Japanese player, 6-4, 6-2 in their second round meeting Down Under at the Australian Open.

Who wins?

Clay is Konta's weakest surface but the Brit has improved her game significantly, and being under the tutelage of Wim Fissette, her coach can change the Brit's approach to playing tennis on clay courts. Moreover, Konta's power game with her backhand being the strongest aspect of her game can do a lot of damage to her opponents on this surface. The Miami Open winner has two victories over Osaka despite both of those matches being on hard courts, Konta will have the mental advantage over her younger opponent.

The 19-year-old has a good serve, and her forehand is a powerful weapon, and she is an extremely gifted athlete, who has portrayed her excellent movement around the court. Osaka is due to take a big scalp and a good run at a tournament as she is too good of a player to be ranked inside the top 50, and could be amongst her rising star colleagues Kasatkina, Jelena Ostapenko and Yulia Putintseva, who have all been inside the top 32 at one point in their career.

This will be the second match scheduled on Centre Court with both players expected to be on the court at approximately 1:30 pm local time, following the match between Carla Suarez Navarro and German qualifier Tamara Korpatsch. Last year's US Open quarterfinalist Anastasija Sevastova awaits in the second round for the winner of the match between Konta and Osaka. This should be a close contest but Konta is playing too much good tennis at the moment not to go a good run in Stuttgart.

Prediction: Konta in straight sets