Osaka advances to fourth round at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Naomi Osaka had the umpire warning her for spiking her racket in the first set, and checking on her welfare when she tumbled near the baseline in the next.

The U.S. Open champion had a topsy-turvy third-round at the Australian Open on Saturday, getting within two games of elimination before finding her range against a tricky Hsieh Su-wei and winning 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.

In her courtside interview, Osaka apologized to the crowd for getting the umpire’s warning for smashing the racket, and told them to pretend it didn’t happen.

“Hopefully learn from that moment,” she said later. “I tend to keep a lot of things bottled up. I just felt like in that moment sort of releasing it was easier than just keeping it inside.”

It wasn’t until she was down a break in the second set that Osaka paused, smiled and figured out a way past the 33-year-old Hsieh, who plays with a double-handed grip on both sides and uses a mixture of spin and slice and drop shots.

Hsieh has taken some top 10 players out of majors before, reaching the fourth round last year here after beating Garbine Muguruzu and at Wimbledon, where she beat top-ranked Simona Halep.

Hsieh was one point away from a 5-2 lead in the second set, serving at 40-0, when Osaka turned her frustration into something positive and went on a roll to win five consecutive points. She lost only one more game in the remainder of the match.

“For me, it was a moment like I walked into the match knowing that she was going to do a lot of strange things, no offense,” Osaka said, smiling. “But she was just playing so well, and I think I got overwhelmed. And then early in the second set I tried doing things that I know isn’t necessarily my game.

“Then after a while, I just started thinking that I’m in a Grand Slam. I shouldn’t be sad, I’m playing against a really great player, so I should just enjoy my time and try and put all my energy into doing the best that I can on every point.”

Her only trip up from there was genuine. She rolled her ankle early in the game where she was serving for the second set and was sprawled on the court. Umpire Manuel Absolu called out to see if she was OK. She said no, but later signaled a thumbs-up.

“Yeah, that’s just funny to me,” she said. “He was like, `Naomi, are you OK?’ I mean, I was, but I wanted to see his reaction if I said no.”

The 21-year-old Osaka’s public profile has grown exponentially since she beat Serena Williams in the final in New York. She’s still cultivating her image and humor is a key. So expect some more.

Until the U.S. Open last September, Osaka’s run at Melbourne Park last year had been her best performance at a Grand Slam tournament. She would have considered anything less than reaching the second week as a setback.

“I’m happy with how I fought,” Osaka said. “For me, that’s, like, one of the biggest things I always thought I could improve, because it sort of seems like before I would accept defeat in a way.”

Osaka said she’d have to regroup quickly for her fourth-round match against No. 13 Anastasija Sevastova, who she beat in three sets in the Brisbane International quarterfinals in the first week of the season. Sevastova beat No. 21 Wang Qiang 6-3, 6-3.

Osaka has steadily improved under the coaching of Sascha Bajin, a former hitting partner of Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki. But she’s also open to advice from one of the greats, particularly when she’s training at Chris Evert’s tennis academy in Boca Raton.

Asked what words of wisdom Evert had imparted, Osaka saw a chance to stir things up.

“Not that I’m, like, ragging on Sascha, but it’s a bit more … it feels like I should listen to her more, in a way, because – oh, I’m going to get so much hate – you know, because I have seen what she did, and she’s also played,” Osaka said. “So it’s a little bit more believable.”

Next practice session with Bajin should be fun.

U.S. sweeps Uzbekistan, advances to group stage in Davis Cup

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The United States swept its way into the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals, getting the winning point in a 4-0 victory over Uzbekistan from the doubles team of Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek.

They beat Sergey Fomin and Sanjar Fayziev 6-2, 6-4, after Tommy Paul and Mackenzie McDonald had won singles matches in Tashkent.

Ram is No. 3 in the ATP Tour doubles rankings and partnered with Joe Salisbury to win the last two U.S. Open men’s doubles titles. But the Americans opted not to use Ram last year in the final round, when they dropped the doubles match in a 2-1 defeat against Italy in the quarterfinals.

Krajicek was making his Davis Cup debut, having reached No. 9 in the doubles rankings late last year.

“They had five great days of preparation, and as anticipated they came out really sharp and got the early break in the first set. And after that it was like two freight trains, there was no stopping them,” interim captain David Nainkin said.

Denis Kudla then beat Amir Milushev 6-4, 6-4.

The winners of the 12 qualifiers being held this weekend advance to the Davis Cup Finals group stage in September, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

In other matches:

France 3, Hungary 2: On indoor hard courts in Tatabanya, Hungary, Ugo Humbert won it for the French with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Fabian Marozsan. Adrian Mannarino had forced the deciding match by beating Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (6), 6-2.

Serbia 4, Norway 0: On indoor hard courts in Oslo, the visitors, playing without top-ranked Novak Djokovic, put away the match when Filip Krajinovic and Nikola Cacic edged Viktor Durasovic and Herman Hoeyeraal 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Hamad Medjedovic then outlasted Durasovic 6-4, 6-7, 10-4.

Sweden 3, Bosnia 1: On indoor hard courts in Stockholm, Mikael Ymer sent the hosts through by beating Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.

Lesia Tsurenko to face Zhu Lin in Thailand Open final

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine reached her first final in four years after the top-seeded Bianca Andreescu retired with a shoulder injury during their semifinal match at the Thailand Open.

Tsurenko, in search of her fifth WTA title, was leading the 2019 U.S. Open champion 7-5, 4-0 when the Canadian stopped playing.

The former world No. 23 fought from 3-5 down to take the first set and reeled off eight straight games before Andreescu retired with a right shoulder problem.

“Bianca is such an amazing player. She is capable of hitting all kinds of shots and gave so much trouble today,” said the 33-year-old Tsurenko, now ranked 136th. “But I was just fighting and I told myself positive things that I can do it. Unfortunately, she had to retire.”

The Ukrainian last lifted a WTA trophy in Acapulco in 2018 and hasn’t been to a final since Brisbane in 2019.

She will face Zhu Lin of China in the final.

“She had some good wins in the Australian Open,” Tsurenko said. “She is one of the dangerous players in this tournament. She is going to give a good fight.”

In the all-Chinese semifinal earlier, Zhu benefited from a barrage of unforced errors from Wang Xinyu and prevailed 6-2, 6-4 for her first WTA final.

The world No. 54 player, who reached the last 16 at the Australian Open in January, relied on her solid baseline game to force errors.

“It was very windy, so I tried to be patient and keep my first serves in,” said the 29-year-old Zhu, who will team up with Wang in the doubles final against Hao-Ching Chan and Fang-Hsien Wu of Taiwan.