Tokyo - Japan's
Naomi Osaka exuded a major champion's aura on Friday as she dispatched
Barbora Strycova 6-3, 6-4 to reach the Pan Pacific Open semi-finals,
despite being nowhere near her best.
The third seed, who stunned Serena Williams to capture the US Open
title earlier this month, failed to hit the same heights she did on that
historic night in New York.
But she still had too much firepower for Strycova in Tokyo, advancing to face Italy's Camila Giorgi in the last four.
Eighth seed Strycova had little answer to her opponent's venomous
hitting and the world number seven bagged the first set with a
sledgehammer forehand that almost tore the racquet from the Czech's
The 20-year-old Osaka, contesting her first tournament since becoming
Japan's first Grand Slam singles winner, never looked back against a
player 12 years her senior, with another forehand rocket bringing up a
first match point.
Strycova saved that one but moments later, Osaka fired a bruising
serve into the body to extend her current winning streak to nine
"I've played her three times and each time it's been very hard," said Osaka, who reached the Tokyo final in 2016.
"I don't feel any extra pressure playing in Japan," added Japan's
latest sporting celebrity, who has a Japanese mother, a Haitian father
and was raised in the United States.
"I've improved a lot of things in the last few years and I feel excited playing here."
Giorgi, who knocked out top seed and defending champion Caroline
Wozniacki on Thursday, was leading former world number one Victoria
Azarenka 5-3 when the Belarusian retired with stomach pains.
Earlier, fourth seed Karolina Pliskova saved two match points before
the former women's top-ranked player ended American qualifier Alison
Riske's run with a 6-1, 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/4) victory.
The Czech, who smashed a racquet in disgust after squandering
multiple chances at 5-5 in the deciding set, completed a "lucky win"
with a sliced backhand that Riske wafted into the net after two hours,
"It was an important win for me," said Pliskova after reaching her first Tokyo semi-final.
"I'm just happy to be able to fight back - she was a little bit better than me, but you need a bit of luck in tennis."
Pliskova faces Croatia's Donna Vekic in the last four after she upset second seed Caroline Garcia 6-3, 6-4.
Garcia blew an early break to allow Vekic to take the opening set and
the Frenchwoman suffered a carbon-copy letdown in the second, the
Croatian ending her misery with a backhand winner.