In a much-anticipated fourth-round showdown, two pre-tournament favorites met as Naomi Osaka and Garbine Muguruza met in the fourth round of the Australian Open. The two represent finalists here in Melbourne over the last two years with Osaka claiming the title in 2019 and Muguruza making the final here last year.
Osaka entered the match on a 14-match win streak which includes two walkovers in the Western and Southern Open final and the Gippsland Trophy semifinals against Elise Mertens.
Muguruza caught many eyes at the Yarra Valley Classic as she pummeled opponents en route to a runner-up finish, losing out to Australia's Ashleigh Barty. She did not drop more than two games in a set on the way to the final and took out three seeded players in the process, including her 2020 Australian Open finals rival, Sofia Kenin.
It was a fast-paced match that did not disappoint as Naomi Osaka would claim a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory, saving two match points in the process, and earned the right to take on Su-Wei Hsieh in the quarterfinals.
Muguruza Rallies For Opening Set
It would be the three seed to get out of the gates quickly with two aces in her opening service game followed by breaking the Muguruza serve on her fourth attempt. A double-fault from the three-time major champion set up break point for the Spaniard, and she'd take it after an unforced error into the net from Osaka.
After a nervy opening start for both women, the two remained steady on serve for the next four service games. Osaka overhit a forehand that just missed at 4-4 to give Muguruza an opportunity at two break points. Another unforced error from the 2019 champion in Melbourne gave the 14 seed a chance to serve for the opening set.
There were no problems for last year's finalist closing out the opening set 6-4.
Osaka Battles Back To Set Two
Osaka was looking to get to a quick start after dropping her first set of the tournament. A missed backhand into the open court that went long started off the game and that was the tone-setter in the game. A net cord at 15-40 helped to set up a lob winner to give the Spaniard an opening break to start set two.
A quick hold consolidated the break, but Osaka got herself on the board with some dominant serving. The Japanese number one needed to get going in the battle on the ground if she were to rally as the 14th seed was winning that battle by some margin.
Just like set one, an early break in the first couple of games was given immediately as the world number three started to find her footing with her groundstrokes. She was behind after getting it back to 2-2 but the live arm from the three-time major champion was on full display to get get it to 3-2.
The telling stat at this point in the match was Osaka having more than double the unforced errors that Muguruza had (20-9). Despite that, the world number three stayed steady and continued to find her footing on the ground and earned herself two set points.
Muguruza held her nerve with some clutch tennis to get it back to deuce, but it would be Osaka taking the second set 6-4 in what was a near mirror of the opening set.
Osaka Saves Match Points, Before Clinching The Match
Both women held to start the third set which already contrasted the first two sets. Osaka had the first break point chance of the final set, but Muguruza saved it with an overhead winner to get it to 2-2.
Another bad miss from Osaka as she hit a short ball wide when she had the whole court to hit into. Muguruza attacked a second serve to set up a backhand winner for two break points. Despite a massive forehand to save one, a double-fault was costly for the world number three as she went behind a 2-3 in the final set.
The Spaniard consolidated the break after another testy service game, going from 30-0 up to 30-30 and then to deuce. Osaka nearly had a similar service game herself but from 30-30, came through with an ace and a forehand winner to keep herself within touching distance of the 14th-seeded Spaniard.
Muguruza faced another break point, but back-to-back aces followed by a clutch backhand winner down the line after a long rally put the Spaniard one game away from the quarterfinals.
Facing two match points, Osaka found her game once again. A couple of aces paired with some timely clean and marginal hitting forced the 14 seed to serve it out. In a match like this where margins were going to be tight, there just had to be another twist in the tale. Muguruza saved two more break points with one of them coming off a missed return from Osaka on the second serve.
Third time was the charm from Osaka to level the final set at 5-5 with a forehand winner. The level of tennis that these two women were playing was phenomenal. Osaka was 40-0 up before Muguruza crawled back to 40-30, but it would be the world number three to force the Spaniard to serve to stay in the match.
Osaka would claim the match after saving two match points as she broke the Spaniard to love to book her spot in the quarterfinals.