New York: Naomi Osaka became the first Japanese woman in 22 years to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam here Wednesday when she defeated Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 6-1 in a last eight match of the US Open tennis tournament and admitted she was ‘freaking out’ inside.
Osaka wasn’t born when compatriot Kimiko Date made the Wimbledon semifinals in 1996 but now the 20-year-old has the opportunity to go one better by reaching a maiden Grand Slam final.
To get to Saturday’s championship match, 20th seed Osaka will have to get past US 14th seed and 2017 runner-up Madison Keys who breezed past Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro 6-4, 6-3. Keys leads Osaka 3-0 in career meetings.
“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,” informed Osaka. “I was freaking out inside and my whole body was shaking but overall I am most proud of not breaking a racquet.”
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 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 as she found herself 0-4 down in the second. She could never make up the deficit.
Keys 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.
Thursday’s other semifinal sees six-time champion Serena Williams take on Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova.