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.

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”