Two-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka met for the third time in four consecutive tournaments, this time with the former world number one triumphing in straight sets at the China Open, a result similar to their encounter at the Toray Pan Pacific Open. Kerber was playing confidently with her forehands working really well, clinching the win in 89 minutes to extend Osaka’s losing streak to five matches.
Tight contest in the early stages
Osaka made a slow start into the match despite having her powerful first serves, committing errors after errors in the opening game to trail by an early break. From 30-0 up, the Japanese lost her focus and was unable to deal with Kerber’s counterpunching skills which allowed the German to take the early lead. Earning two game point opportunities, Kerber was unable to find her first serves from then onwards, resulting in Osaka brutally punishing those weak second deliveries as she came out of nowhere to break straight back and leveled the scores at 1-1.
Kerber marches to the first set
It was three consecutive breaks to start the contest with as both players were evenly-matched at the baseline, with Osaka using her power to dictate play but Kerber being able to absorb the power and redirect the pace, moving her younger opponent all around the court. The former world number one regained the lead, and this time she managed to consolidate the break as she comfortably held her serve to 15 for a 3-1 lead.
Surviving the longest game of the first set, Kerber stormed to yet another service break as Osaka was simply unable to find the rhythm on her groundstrokes, often falling victim to her own impatience during lengthy rallies. The German was strolling through the encounter as she looked on course for the straightforward victory after jumping out to a 5-1 lead, being just a game away from winning the first set. Osaka kept herself in the set after saving a set point to hold serve for the first time in the afternoon, but she still could not find the breakthrough on the return as Kerber was just too clinical on her serve, eventually sealing the first set 6-2.
Even start to the second set
A tight start to the second set saw both players hold their first service games with Kerber having to endure through a tough 10-point service game which saw her throw in some clutch serves to stay on serve. The third game was a tussle as it was extremely important for either player, with Kerber leading by a set and a break if she were to win it and Osaka being able to increase her confidence with the service hold. Saving three break points, the Japanese utilized her solid groundstrokes for a lifeline in the match.
Osaka takes the lead
Similar to their encounter in Tokyo, Osaka lost the first set before storming back to earn a lead in the second set. Kerber lost her focus momentarily after failing to convert the huge chunk of break points, trailing 2-4 on the scoreboard as Osaka managed to take the lead for the first time in the match. However, the underdog was unable to hold onto her lead as she started to spray unforced errors for Kerber to easily break straight back, returning on serve.
Kerber proceeds to the second round
The set seemed headed towards a tiebreak but Osaka failed to remain composed at the most crucial moments of the match, getting broken by an inspired Kerber in the eleventh game to gift the two-time Grand Slam champion a golden opportunity to serve out the match as the pressure affected her greatly. Without a hitch, Kerber successfully served out the win under 90 minutes, clinching the confidence-boosting victory.