Former world number one Karolina Pliskova utilised her big serve to full effect to ease to a 6-4, 6-4 victory over home favourite and US Open champion Naomi Osaka in the Pan Pacific Open final in Tokyo on Sunday.
Osaka, supremely confident and in top form coming into the contest on the back of 10 consecutive wins, appeared uncertain throughout the match as her Czech opponent broke serve once in each set to triumph in 64 minutes.
Prior to the final, Pliskova had spent 419 minutes on court, more than any other player and almost twice as long as Osaka, but the Japanese player soon wilted and was unable to match the brilliance that secured her a first Grand Slam title.
Pliskova, meanwhile, was more than happy to take advantage of Osaka’s sloppiness, converting both her break point opportunities and reeling off the last 11 points to secure a second WTA title of the campaign.
“It was important for me to play just two sets and not go to a third one. I needed a match like this,” the 26-year-old world number eight told reporters.
“Also confidence gets higher and higher with every match that you win and I won a lot of tough matches here, a lot of tough sets against tough opponents, so I’m proud of this.”
The usually aggressive Pliskova said she had adjusted her game plan based on her previous two meetings with world number seven Osaka, which the pair had split.
“I didn’t want to try to overpower her because I think she just has more power than me. So I just wanted to be patient and wait for my chances,” Pliskova added after capturing her 11th career WTA title without offering up a single break point.
“I was just trying to serve well, to mix the speed also a little bit, to play lots to her backhand,” she added. “She was missing quite a lot today so it was working, so I didn’t change anything.”
Osaka’s defeat was her second in the tournament final, having also been runner-up in 2016, as the 20-year-old seemed to finally succumb to the after-effects of her emotional US Open triumph earlier this month.
“I have literally never been so tired in my entire life,” she told reporters. “I haven’t really had much time to rest, so I feel tired right now.”
When asked to explain her lacklustre performance, Osaka replied: “If I know I would have fixed it. As I am feeling very tired today, maybe I wasn’t doing the little things well.”
She can still, however, take heart from her recent run of form as she looks to finish the year on a strong note.
“To play the final of the U.S. Open and then to come here, I think I did pretty well,” Osaka said.
“So if there is anything I can take from this it is that I am proud of myself.”
In clinching the title, Pliskova took a big step towards securing her spot at the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore, the victory putting her just ahead of Kiki Bertens for the eighth and final berth in next month’s field.
Kontaveit upsets Stephens in Wuhan Open first round
Estonian Anett Kontaveit recovered from a set and a break down to beat ninth seed Sloane Stephens 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 in the first round of the Wuhan Open on Sunday.
Kontaveit made a strong start, racing into a 3-0 lead in the opening set before Stephens fought back from behind the baseline, winning six of the final seven games to go a set up.
The American got an early break in the second but stumbled at 4-3, making several errors to allow Kontaveit to break back before the Estonian levelled the match at a set apiece.
Kontaveit stayed on top in the decider, and hit 34 winners compared to 20 from Stephens.
"I'm feeling really good. I'm so happy I got the win," Kontaveit said. "It was tough but hopefully I will have some rest and be ready for the next match."
Earlier, Russian 13th seed Daria Kasatkina beat Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko for the first time in her career to reach round two.
Kasatkina won 6-4 7-5 and will face either Bernarda Pera or Chinese qualifier Wang Xiyu next.
Wang's compatriot Zhang Shuai beat Australian Samantha Stosur 6-2, 6-2.
Bertens edges out Tomljanovic to claim victory in Korea
Kiki Bertens showed plenty of grit and determination to rally past Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic in the Korea Open final on Sunday, keeping herself firmly in contention for a spot in the season-ending WTA Finals with a third title of the year.
Playing her fourth final of 2018, the second-seeded Dutch woman reeled off the final six games to emerge with a 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-2 victory in a roller-coaster match lasting two hours and 24 minutes.
“It feels great to be honest. To be holding this trophy feels special. Last year I won the doubles title but this feels better,” Bertens said after collecting her trophy at the WTA International event.
Bertens started the week eighth in the WTA Finals standings but was overtaken by former world number one Karolina Pliskova, who won a higher-level Premier event in Tokyo earlier on Sunday. The top eight players qualify for Singapore.
Big-serving Czech Pliskova eased to a 6-4, 6-4 victory over home favourite and US Open champion Naomi Osaka in the Pan Pacific Open final to move up a place from ninth spot.
Bertens’ seventh WTA career title, however, leaves the Dutch player just 69 points behind Pliskova with both women competing in Wuhan next week.
The Dutch woman was broken twice in the opener but managed to break back immediately each time to force a tiebreaker, in which the unseeded Australian gave up six straight points to hand her opponent the initiative.
Tomljanovic came back strongly, winning five games in a row from 3-4 down in the second set to first send the contest into a decider and then surge ahead in the third.
Bertens dug deep to respond once more as the 26-year-old won six games in a row, sealing the title with a forehand pass on her second championship point.