Osaka shows gentle touch to set up Muguruza clash

Melbourne—Naomi Osaka had to deal with a butterfly landing on her nose Friday but was otherwise little bothered as she breezed into the last 16 of the Australian Open and a showdown with last year’s runner-up Garbine Muguruza.

Osaka shows gentle touch to set up Muguruza clash
A butterfly lands on Japan’s Naomi Osaka as she plays against Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur during their women’s singles match on Day 5 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. AFP

The third seed, champion in Melbourne two years ago, gently carried the insect intruder to safety at the side of the court before closing out an easy 6-3, 6-2 victory over Tunisian 27th seed Ons Jabeur in 1hr 18min.

Japan’s Osaka, who has dropped just 13 games in her opening three matches, is great friends with “free spirit” Jabeur and said playing against her on John Cain Arena was “really fun”.

But she wasn’t happy with how she performed.

“I felt like I wasn’t playing that well like my unforced error rate was probably really high today,” she said. “But I’m really happy with how I fought.”

Osaka will face an entirely different style of play when she meets two-time Grand Slam winner Muguruza for a place in the quarter-finals.

“For me I feel like Ons is a very different player, but that’s just judging from the matches I’ve watched of Muguruza,” she said. 

“I think Ons is definitely more of a free spirit, and I think for me Muguruza might be a bit more like my taste. Like she’s not as unpredictable as Ons is.”

Osaka added that she was excited to finally play the Spanish 14th seed, having watched her win Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros in 2016 and Wimbledon a year later.

Muguruza, who lost in the final to Sofia Kenin a year ago, beat Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas 6-1, 6-1 to set up the fourth-round clash.

“I’ve practiced with her once, but it was on grass, and I was younger,” she said.

“But I just remember being really impressed by her, and for me, I’ve watched her win Wimbledon and win the French Open when I was younger, and I’ve always wanted to have the chance to play her. So for me, this is really exciting.”

When they do play on Sunday, it will be in front of an empty stadiums after it was announced Friday that Melbourne would go into five days’ lockdown from midnight to try and stamp out a fresh coronavirus cluster.

“I feel like while I’m here, I’m really embracing the crowd,” said Osaka, but added that with no fans to spur her on she would instead just “focus within myself”. 

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