Naomi Osaka says that when she’s on a tennis court, life is all about winning the next point, next set, next match.
On Tuesday night she took care of business against Shelby Rogers in a U.S. Open quarterfinal on Arthur Ashe Stadium. The 2018 U.S. Open champion, who had been beaten by Rogers in an all three previous matches, had too much game for the 27-year-old American, winning 6-2 , 6-4 at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"I felt she had the upper hand because I had never beaten her,” Osaka said. “I felt it was sort of a little revenge. A more positive attitude today.”
The victory set up a semifinal with American Jennifer Brady, who defeated Yulina Putintseva, 6-3, 6-2, in a day match on Ashe.
Off the court, It’s been some past few weeks for Osaka and her passionate embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement. Tuesday night she wore a mask onto the court with the name of George Floyd, the black man who died while under arrest by police in Minneapolis in May, an incident that set off nationwide protests. Osaka visited Minneapolis to be part of the movement there.
Then during the Western & Southern Open that preceded the U.S. Open at the National Tennis Center, she declined to play her semifinal match in a protest over the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The USTA, owner of the tournament, paused it for a day in sympathy. Osaka played and won the semifinal but had to pull out of the final with a hamstring injury.
Osaka is still wearing a big wrap on that hammy, but she doesn’t seem to be hindered by it. Her movement was superb, including running down a short ball she turned into a crosscourt winner to win the eighth game of the second set.
Next comes Brady.
The first time Brady played on Ashe was in the 2017 U.S. Open against Karolina Pliskova, who took 46 minutes to dispatch Brady in two sets of the fourth-round match. Brady won one game.
On Tuesday in her second visit to Ashe, a completely different Brady took 69 minutes to dispatch Putintseva and book a spot in the semifinals.
What’s the difference between Brady now and then?
“Three years,” Brady said. “Three years can make a huge difference. I think I have matured. I definitely have gotten a lot fitter, I feel a lot stronger out on court, have a lot more confidence in myself and my game. I know what I'm doing out there. I believe in myself, my game, that I'm good enough to win matches and to be at this level and to be where I am today.”
Putintseva beat Brady twice in 2018, but Brady pretty much owned Tuesday's match from the beginning. Her powerful first serve combined with superb placement gave her the opening edge in the majority of points over a player who had broken the most serves in the women’s draw coming into the match (24).
Brady broke Putintseva’s first two serves, got broken herself, but confidently took the first set. Brady broke Putintseva again in the opening game of the second set, got broken in the fourth game, then broke right back and continued the march right into the semis.
Brady began working with German coach Michael Geserer in the fall of last year, who also brought on board fitness coach Daniel Pohl. How much credit does she give Geserer?
“I would say all of it,” Brady said. “And my trainer, getting me a lot fitter, stronger. And then also knowing what to do with my game, you know, having a clear game plan on every single match that I go out there and I know what I have to do in order to win the match, having good execution and, yeah, just playing within myself but playing aggressive tennis.”