Kerber and Osaka meet at the net after their US Open encounter | Photo: Elsa/ North America
For the third time in four consecutive tournaments (US Open, Tokyo, and now Beijing), former world number one Angelique Kerber and the giant-killer Naomi Osaka faces off in the opening round as it would be yet another meeting between these two players, this time at the China Open, a WTA Premier Mandatory event.
Osaka’s Asian Swing thus far
Osaka missed the golden opportunity to make her first appearance in the second week of a Grand Slam as she failed to deal well with the pressure at Flushing Meadows, falling to Kaia Kanepi in three tough sets. However, that disappointing loss marked the start of a rout for the Japanese youngster as Osaka faltered in front of her home crowd at both the Japan Women’s Open and the Toray Pan Pacific Open, losing to Kurumi Nara and Kerber respectively.
Everything seemed to be going wrong for Osaka as she fell in the opening round of the Wuhan Open to Elise Mertens, losing with a 4-6, 6-1, 4-6 scoreline. Osaka is only just defending first-round qualifying points from last year in Beijing.
Kerber’s Asian Swing thus far
Ever since falling out of the top-10 as a result of a first-round loss at the 2017 US Open which saw her, coincidentally, fall to Osaka in straight sets, Kerber has been putting up some encouraging performances. The pressure seemed to be off her shoulders as she played freely without being hindered mentally, beating the defending finalist and home favorite Osaka in the first round in Tokyo before exacting revenge over Daria Kasatkina, having lost to the Russian on two occasions this year.
Kerber then earned her first win over a top-five player since the 2016 WTA Finals as she played what could be the best match of her year, defeating former world number one Karolina Pliskova in two tight sets which ended 7-6, 7-5. However, she seemed to be troubled by a left arm injury in the semifinal but still continued to fight on as the German almost sealed a comeback from 0-6, 2-5 down against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, but the Russian was just too good as she mounted a comeback of her own, recovering from a 0-3 deficit in the final set to triumph.
Proceeding to the Wuhan Open where Kerber received a tough draw, the German faced Caroline Garcia in the first-round. Kerber looked clinical in the first half of the match as she did not face a single break point, but everything went wrong when Garcia upped her level of play as the two-time Grand Slam champion had no answers to the Frenchwoman’s aggressive tennis.
The pair has met twice in the past month, with the series tied at 1-1. Osaka won their first meeting at the US Open as she built her confidence and looked incredibly comfortable in the Arthur Ashe Stadium, triumphing 6-3, 6-1. Nonetheless, Kerber took revenge for the loss weeks later in Tokyo, outplaying the youngster in front of her home crowd.
Kerber has been slowly finding her way back to the top, with her performance in Tokyo being very encouraging. The German’s ability to play some of her best tennis was reflected by the semifinal appearance at the Toray Pan Pacific Open, with her forehands looking at its peak. She was able to find the variety of angles and consistency on her groundstrokes, which was what pushed her up to be the top-ranked player last year.
Meanwhile, Osaka is renowned for her extremely powerful groundstrokes which could trouble defensive players like Kerber. As seen in their US Open encounter, the Japanese was basically blowing the then-defending champion off the court and she needs this confidence to triumph against the German once again.
The serve is a very important tool for either player, with the lefty advantage working very well for Kerber recently. The former world number one has to be aggressive on her serve and aim for a high first-serve percentage as her second serves are extremely vulnerable with Osaka having the power to pounce on them. The Japanese also needs more first-serves as she has to get her rhythm for her game to work well.
Confidence is crucial in this encounter for both players. Kerber comes off a semifinal appearance in Tokyo but crashed out in the opening round of the Wuhan Open, but still put up an acceptable performance there. Osaka is currently on a four-match losing streak and failed to defend her finalist points in Tokyo, thus she exited the Top 60 last week. Kerber clinched the win in their last meeting and therefore the win against an unconfident Osaka should be manageable.
Match Prediction:  Angelique Kerber d. Naomi Osaka in straight sets
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