The circumstances and stakes were different, as was the quality of the match. Yet, the end result was the same: Naomi Osaka defeated Petra Kvitova in three contentious, close sets on a hardcourt.
What happened at the start of the 2019 WTA season in Australia recurred at the end of the season in Shenzhen, the new site of the WTA Finals.
No, this match didn’t acquire the same soaring, sweet trajectory of the Australian Open final — how could it? — but like that match in Melbourne nine months ago, Kvitova lost a close first set, pulled Osaka into a third, and demanded more of Osaka… who answered the bell in set three.
This is part of the richness of tennis: Even if the raw quality of a subsequent meeting between two formidable players might not rise to the level of a previous encounter, there is still the central, essential tension of who wins and who loses.
Can a player who forged a memorable and significant victory in one place, at one time, under one set of circumstances, arrive at a very different space in her career, in a different part of the world, and replicate that result?
Osaka did on Sunday in Shenzhen. With Belinda Bencic having to take a medical timeout in her loss to Ashleigh Barty, Osaka’s victory over Kvitova puts her in excellent position to advance to the semifinals. Osaka reaffirmed her penchant for winning the most important matches of her hardcourt season.
She also won her first match at the WTA Finals, having gone 0-3 in 2018.
Shenzhen might be new to the WTA Finals, but after her 2018 baptism in the event, the WTA Finals aren’t new to Naomi Osaka. It showed on the first Sunday of the event.
Osaka now hopes she will be able to play on the second Sunday of the tournament.
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