Certified fresh: Osaka wins gripping sequel over Kvitova at WTA Finals

Certified fresh: Osaka wins gripping sequel over Kvitova at WTA Finals

The world No. 3 notched her 11th consecutive match win after prevailing, 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-4, on Sunday in Shenzhen to win the Red Group meeting.

It took nine months for Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova to meet again after the pair delivered one of the most riveting performances of the year in January’s Australian Open final, won by Osaka. With anticipation mounting, the sequel was certified fresh on Sunday, as the two champions provided plenty of plot twists and emotion over two hours and 39 minutes.

In the opening match of the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, Osaka edged Kvitova, 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-4, to secure her 11th successive victory. Having struggled to wear the tag of world No. 1 following her Melbourne triumph, Osaka returned to her earlier season form during the Asian swing, picking up titles in Tokyo and Beijing, and carried it through to win the Red Group meeting.

"For me, it was very difficult. Usually I have first-round jitters and you can't really afford it." Osaka said on-court afterwards. "I'm not one that really plays that well in the first round. I just think that I tried to fight no matter what and I'm very glad that I was able to win."

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Kvitova came out full of intent, striking deep returns to break Osaka in the opening game. Her forehand, particularly down the line, was free flowing. But two missed opportunities to break for 3-0 would ultimately haunt the lefty. Up 4-3, Kvitova tossed in three double faults—including two in a row from deuce—to lose her break advantage. Osaka slowly but surely grew in confidence and located her spots on serve when under pressure. Just like in Melbourne, the 22-year-old ran away with the tiebreaker to open a one-set lead.

The Czech reset nicely in the second set to move ahead 2-0, but once again, a double fault halted her chance to build momentum. After Osaka broke for 3-2, Kvitova called for a visit with coach Jiri Vanek. The two engaged in a spirited conversation, one that seemingly rejuvenated the world No. 6. Her timing was back, her serve locked in, and it was clear this match was far from its conclusion.

In a consult with her father, Osaka told him, “I’m too tired to stay calm. It takes so much to stay calm. Naturally I’m not a calm person, dad.”

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Sensing her opponent’s duress, Kvitova pounced, converting her second set point to force a decider. After what seemed to be a confident start to the set, Kvitova’s service woes soon returned in the third game with two more double faults.

Osaka on the other hand, responded well, and held two match points serving at 5-2. Kvitova went in full-on attack mode to win eight of the next nine points, forcing Osaka to contemplate her game plan for one more changeover. Giving herself a quick pep talk, the Japanese wrapped up the victory to get her first win at the WTA Finals after going 0-3 on her debut last year in Singapore. Osaka finished with 12 aces and saved 9 of the 13 break points she faced.