At French Open, Osaka balances tennis and video games

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PARIS – Rattling through the first two rounds of the French Open without losing a set leaves more time for PlayStation for Naomi Osaka.

And should the next big thing in Japanese tennis turn up late for her next match, it could well be because she lost track of time plugged into her console. Who needs the sights of Paris when you have “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” to distract you? (“It’s OK you don’t know it,” she kindly told a middle-aged journalist).

“It’s sort of consumed my time a little bit,” the 20-year-old Osaka said Wednesday after reaching the third round at Roland Garros. “Literally, if I have 30 minutes then I’ll just sit there and I might be a little bit late. Like I’ll spend 35 minutes and then I’m like, `Oh my God, it’s 30 minutes past,’ and then I have to rush out the door. So if I’m ever late to anything, you know why.”

The French Open marks the first time Osaka has been seeded at a major (at No. 21). That billing and her debut title on tour earlier this year, when she tore through a high-powered field to win at Indian Wells, mark out Japan’s top-ranked woman as a player to watch in this first week when many struggle to find their feet on the red clay of Paris but others make it their home.

Osaka, who also reached the third round at her first French Open in 2016 only to lose to a qualifier in straight sets in the first round last year, said she is concentrating less on the surface than on trying to win her first Grand Slam.

“In my mind, it’s not really clay,” she said. “I just focus more on the tennis part, rather than making up excuses of what the surface is and how my play style isn’t suited for it.”

Osaka’s third-round opponent is Madison Keys, an American seeded 13th. Keys beat Osaka in both of their previous matches. If Osaka has her way, next time will not only produce a different outcome but be quick, too – because she hopes to spend as little time as possible on the tournament grounds.

“I’m only here if I have to be, to be honest,” she said. “When I was younger I used to love walking around and just experiencing the atmosphere. But now, like, I just sort of think of this as my job. So it’s like clocking in and clocking out.”

Those she beat on her way to the Indian Wells title in March included five-time major winner Maria Sharapova and top-ranked Simona Halep. At her next tournament, in Miami, she then overpowered Serena Williams, her tennis idol in childhood, 6-3, 6-2 in the first round.

She started traveling with her games console from that point on.

“Sometimes I’m really bored in my room and I feel like I really want to play,” she said. “That’s why I started bringing it.”

Linette keeps getting better; into Australian Open semis

Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Two days after advancing to her first Grand Slam tournament quarterfinal, unseeded Magda Linette went one better and is into the Australian Open semifinals.

The 30-year-old Linette beat Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 7-5, adding the former No. 1 to the list of top players she has beaten at Melbourne Park during this tournament.

Linette, who had lost seven of nine previous matches against Pliskova, had defeated Anett Kontaveit, Ekaterina Alexandrova and WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in successive rounds.

A player from Poland was favored to reach the latter stages of the tournament, but it was top-seeded Iga Swiatek that everyone would have expected – and not Linette.

“It’s so emotional I can’t really believe it,” Linette said. “I tried to stay composed and took my chances when I could.”

Linette will play No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka, who beat unseeded Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2 in a later quarterfinal. The women’s semifinals are scheduled for Thursday night.

Vekic, who had 13 double faults against Sabalenka, had a succinct appraisal of her serve: “I mean, it was all over the place. But I think mostly in the net.”

The other women’s semifinalists were determined on Tuesday. Two-time former Australian champion Victoria Azarenka will play Wimbledon titleholder Elena Rybakina for a chance to play in Saturday night’s final. Rybakina beat Swiatek in the fourth round.

Later Wednesday, the remaining men’s semifinalists will be determined. Unseeded Americans Ben Shelton and Tommy Paul play before nine-time champion Novak Djokovic takes on Andrey Rublev.

Djokovic will be looking to qualify for his 44th Grand Slam semifinal and a win in that match on Friday would advance him on Sunday night to his 33rd major singles final.

The other men’s semifinal on Friday will see third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas play Karen Khachanov.

Rybakina rules in Australian Open quarterfinal vs. Ostapenko

Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia – Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina advanced to the Australian Open semifinals with a 6-2, 6-4 win over former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

The match on Rod Laver Arena featured a rare rain delay of about 20 minutes while the roof was closed. Rybakina led 3-1 and was holding a break point before the delay. On return, Ostapenko saved the first break point, but Rybakina broke on her next opportunity to go up 4-1 and won the first set 6-2.

In the second set, Ostapenko was up a break but Rybakina leveled with a break of her own. It came on her first break point when Ostapenko had been unable to convert four in the previous game.

Rybakina, who beat top-seeded Iga Swiatek in the fourth round, set up match points with aces, both of which were saved by Ostapenko. But she clinched the match with another ace, her 11th of the match and a tournament-leading 35 overall.

“I was nervous in the last game, but I managed my emotions and played very well.” Rybakina said. “The conditions were different after the roof was closed. But it can happen here, you never know, on the morning one weather and later it changes.”

Rybakina will play the winner of the night quarterfinal between American Jessica Pegula, at No. 3 the highest women’s seed remaining, and two-time champion Victoria Azarenka.

In men’s quarterfinals, 22-year-old American Sebastian Korda played the next match at Rod Laver Arena against No. 18-seeded Karen Khachanov. In a night quarterfinal, third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas plays Jiri Lehecka. The winners of those matches will play each other in the semifinals on Friday.