Naomi Osaka ended a four-match losing run in Tokyo to set up a second-round encounter with Beatriz Hadid in the WTA Toray Pan Pacific Open.
2022 WTA Tour
Toray Pan Pacific Open
Ariake Coliseum, Tokyo, Japan (Outdoor Hardcourt)
Selected Round of 16 Matches- 22nd September
Beatriz Haddad Maria (5) (1/1) vs Naomi Osaka (76/100)
This has truly been a remarkable year for the previously unheralded Beatriz Haddad Maria. The 26-year-old Brazilian has enjoyed some remarkable results in both singles and doubles. She reached her maiden Grand Slam doubles final in Australia alongside Anna Danilina. Sidenote: her doubles success has helped her become a highly proficient player at the net. She picked up her first two WTA titles with back-to-back victories during the grass-court season.
But it was her stunning run to the Canadian Open final that opened people’s eyes to her ability. Just look at the names that she took down en route to that final: Swiatek, Bencic and Pliskova. She eventually went down to Simona Halep after a gruelling three-set battle.
She perhaps understandably hasn’t been able to sustain that type of form since. But she did pick up a resounding opening victory against hometown hopeful Yuki Naito in her opening match. That took her season win tally to 30 and she will need all that confidence to take down four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka.
This has been a massively disappointing campaign for Osaka. She has struggled with form whilst battling a variety of injuries and mental health issues. The former World No.1 has now dropped to 48 in the world rankings. And that includes her unexpected run to this year’s Miami Open final.
She arrived in Tokyo this week on a four-match losing streak that included an early US Open exit to the formidable Danielle Collins. It would have been nice to gauge her form against Aussie Daria Gavrilova. But the match was prematurely ended after Gavrilova seemed to badly twist her knee. I think that Osaka would have actually preferred some more time on court to sharpen her rusty skills. Still, Osaka is a beloved figure in these parts who will no doubt enjoy a huge amount of support. She is a three-time finalist in this event, winning it when it was last staged in 2019 (the last two editions were canceled due to Covid).
Verdict: Osaka to win in straight sets at 33/20- This will be the first career meeting between these two. It’s almost impossible to determine which Osaka will be present this week. She will be motivated to surge up the rankings to avoid running into someone likes Danielle Collins in the first-round of next year’s Aussie Open.
But she needs to improve on her fundamentals. She only won 23% of her second-serve points in her US Open defeat to Collins. Haddad Maria is a tricky lefty who will look to move Osaka from side to side. But I still think Osaka will progress despite her recent form.
I have the feeling that her game will click into gear here and she will start to dominate on her own delivery.
Karolina Pliskova (6) (5/10) vs Petra Martic (31/20)
This should be a fascinating all-Czech clash. 6th seed Karolina Pliskova has recently started to deliver some of her best tennis following a stuttering start to the year.
She was forced to withdraw from the Aussie Open due to a hand injury. This forced her to miss much of the early part of the year. She wasn’t really able to deliver her best tennis until she came into her own on the North-American hardcourts.
She stormed to the semi-finals of the Canadian Open before a brilliant run to the quarterfinal of the US Open. She may not go on to win a Grand Slam. But the powerful server has reached the final four of all four Grand Slam tournaments. She has also won 16 titles in her glittering career.
She only dropped three games in an imperious opening round victory against Shinikova. She won this event in 2018 and will be a considerable favourite going into this match.
Pliskova’s Czech counterpart Petra Martic has actually compiled a fairly decent season for herself. Martic has always languished in the shadow of both Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova.
She- like Martic and Pliskova- has a massive serve that can dictate matters. But she has often battled with consistency and her counterpunching style doesn’t have the firepower of her contemporaries. But she is actually 30-18 for the year.
She won her 2nd WTA title earlier this year at the Lausanne Open. She also showed some signs of life in the Slams, reaching the 4th round at Wimbledon and the 3rd round of the US Open. But her form has generally been poorer on hard surfaces. Her opening victory against Rina Saigo took her 2022 hardcourt record to 10-9.
Verdict: Martic to win at 31/20- Martic actually leads her compatriot 4-3 in the head-to-head stakes. But Pliskova has won both of their hardcourt matches.
Martic actually has a real puncher’s chance against Pliskova (on any surface). She knows her game inside and out and understands how to frustrate her more powerful opponent.
She will look to employ plenty of slice and the occasional drop-shot to wrongfoot the occasionally static Pliskova. I think there’s some value in going for the underdog here.