New York: Naomi Osaka became the first Japanese woman in 22 years to reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam on Wednesday when she defeated Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 6-1 in the last eight of the US Open, admitting she was “freaking out” inside. Osaka wasn’t born when compatriot Kimiko Date made the Wimbledon semi-finals in 1996 but now the 20-year-old has the opportunity to go one better by reaching a maiden Grand Slam final.
Later Wednesday, Osaka was joined in the record books by compatriot Kei Nishikori who reached his third semi-final at the US Open. It’s the first time that a Japanese man and woman have made the semi-final at the same Slam.
To get to Saturday’s championship match, 20th seed Osaka will have to get past US 14th seed Madison Keys who breezed past Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro 6-4, 6-3. Keys, the 2017 runner-up, leads Osaka 3-0 in career meetings including the third round at the US Open in 2016 when she battled back from 1-5 in the final set to triumph.
“It really means a lot to get to the semis,” said Osaka whose post-match, on-court interview endeared her further to a growing legion of fans. Osaka celebrated her win calmly and coolly unlike the floods of tears which greeted her last-16 victory over Aryna Sabalenka.
“I cried a lot last time and there were lots of people making fun of me. So this time I went straight to the net.
“I was freaking out inside and my whole body was shaking but overall I am most proud of not breaking a racquet.” Osaka, the daughter of a Japanese mother and Haitian father, said she enjoyed playing in the blistering heat of New York which has been such a talking point of the tournament.
“I really don’t think it’s that hot, sorry. I’m used to Florida heat. I like sweating.” Osaka swept aside 36th-ranked Tsurenko in just 57 minutes as the Ukrainian’s challenge fizzled out in a deluge of mistakes.
The 29-year-old, who had knocked out world number two and Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki in the second round, hit 31 unforced errors and won just seven points off the Japanese star’s serve. Osaka broke in the second and sixth games of the opening set which was wrapped up in just 24 minutes.
The crisis soon deepened for Tsurenko, who had needed the best part of three hours on Monday to beat Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova in a match where she almost collapsed due to heat exhaustion. She was quickly down two more breaks at 4-0 before squandering three break points in the sixth game as Osaka glided into a maiden semi-final at the Slams.
“I hate matches like this,” said Tsurenko. “I was ill and woke up with a viral infection. I didn’t want to pull out as it’s a Grand Slam quarter-final but she played well.” Keys, the runner-up to Sloane Stephens last year, took her record over Suarez Navarro to 4-0 thanks to a break in the ninth game of the first set and sixth of the second.
The American fired 22 winners and six aces past Suarez Navarro who had knocked out former champion Maria Sharapova in the previous round. Suarez Navarro has now lost all seven Grand Slam quarter-finals she has contested. Keys said she will look to home support on Thursday when she resumes her rivalry with Osaka.
“When I was 5-1 down in 2016, the crowd pulled me through. They never gave up on me,” she said.
Thursday’s other semi-final sees six-time champion Serena Williams take on Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova.