Former US Open champion Naomi Osaka will be hoping to beat Anett Kontaveit for the second tournament in a row when the two face off for a quarterfinal berth at Flushing Meadows, with sixth seed Petra Kvitova or Shelby Rogers awaiting the winner.
Osaka and Kontaveit played each other at the Western & Southern Open last week, which this year was also held at the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Centre. It was the Japanese, seeded fourth in New York this summer, who prevailed 7-5 in the decider in one of the best matches of the entire tournament. Osaka has won all four meetings between the two, though their match last week was their first since 2018.
Kontaveit nearly beat Osaka last week and has been one of the best players since the restart. The Estonian has won ten of her 12 matches since the WTA Tour returned and, after dropping the opening set against Danielle Collins in the opening round, has won six straight sets of tennis to reach the fourth round for the first time since her tournament debut in 2015. She reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open earlier this year and the five-month suspension has clearly not affected her high level of tennis this season.
Whilst the 14th seed has largely coasted through the draw, Osaka has had a more challenging time at the tournament. There were doubts over the former world number one’s fitness after she withdrew from the Western & Southern Open final due to fitness, and her hamstring is still heavily strapped. The Japanese has been pushed to three sets twice so far, with her toughest contest coming in the third round against Marta Kostyuk, though showed great mental fortitude to eventually halt the challenge of the Ukrainian teenager.
Perhaps the key factor in this match is how Osaka is holding up physically. The two-time Grand Slam champion has implied that the strapping visible on her left hamstring is preventative, though it is possible she may be feeling some strain after two three-set matches. It will be interesting to see how much traction she can get on her serve, usually a big weapon for her, and also how she moves around the court in lengthier rallies; she may be on the backfoot on several occasions.
Rallies will generally be short, with both the Japanese and the Estonian generally aggressive players who like to win points quickly and dictate play. Because of this both can be error-prone at times but this is particularly the case for Kontaveit, who sometimes finds herself going through patches where she struggles to keep the ball in court. The 14th seed must be patient in this encounter as her opponent is a strong athlete who will be able to defend well and get several balls back if the rallies are longer.
The Estonian certainly had some success when returning against Osaka last week and will certainly look to punish any second serves she receives, dictating play from the outset. However, Kontaveit herself can be vulnerable on serve and must maintain a high first serve percentage; this can often cost her in more significant matches such as this one. Osaka is a strong returner and will be hoping for several opportunities on Kontaveit’s second serve.
The match the two contested last week was pretty special and we could be treated to another wonderful contest here. Kontaveit has the weapons to hurt anyone on tour and it would not be a surprise if she was able to pull off the slight upset. However, the head-to-head does favor Osaka, and if she is feeling fine physically she should prevail.
Prediction: Naomi Osaka in three sets