Shenzhen, Oct 27 : World No. 3 Naomi Osaka of Japan defeated No. 6 Czech Petra Kvitova 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-4 in their red group round-robin meeting that opened the 2019 Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen here on Sunday.
The head-to-head gave an indication that this would end up being the closely-fought encounter that materialized on court at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. The two players had only one previous meeting between them (at this year's Australian Open), in which Osaka prevailed in another three-set marathon that ran well over two hours and needed a tiebreak in the opening set.
Osaka stumbled out of the gate with a netted unforced off the forehand side that handed Kvitova an early break. Kvitova, by contrast, kept it tight early in the opener, firing off aggressive groundstrokes from the baseline that seemed to be keeping Osaka from getting into her rhythm.
But Osaka is never a player to let an early stumble get the best of her, and she certainly didn't here. The world No. 3 responded by igniting an all-court push that Kvitova was unable to figure out how to deal with.
Osaka would go on to get a break of her own with a series of perfectly-placed volleys at the net, catching Kvitova off balance to pull level at 4-all.
Kvitova proved unable to respond to Osaka once the latter committed to her all-court approach, and began to have trouble on serve as well, with her first-serve percentage dropping to 42 percent by the end of the opener.
Despite going on to serve out the set to force a tiebreak, Kvitova let Osaka run away with it (just as she had done earlier this year in Australia). Kvitova's aggressive baseline tactics were her undoing in the first. She had 21 winners to 24 unforced errors, while her opponent was much tighter (with 10 winners to 8 unforced). Osaka fired off six aces on the way to taking the opener in just over an hour.
The second set also started out well for the Czech. She held her own opening service, but then the two traded breaks twice on the way to leveling it out at 3-all.
Kvitova's by-the-book baseline approach helped her keep control in the second where it had failed before. She managed to get the decisive 5th break to take the set and force a decider.
Osaka took command in the third, getting an early break to go up 2-1 and a second to nab the chance to serve for the match at 5-2, helped along the way by three double-faults from the Czech.
Osaka, who had been playing a very tight third set up to that point, let the match point slip through her fingers and handed Kvitova a break with some very badly-timed unforced errors. But this turned out to be just a monetary blip for Osaka, who went on to serve out the decider and wrap up the match in two hours, 40 minutes.
Round-robin action in the red group continues this evening, with two doubles matches also on tap later in the night. (XINHAU)