News & Media

Day 4 preview: Osaka, Nishikori fly the flag

3 January 2019, by Dan Imhoff

Quick to heap praise on big-hitting Aussie teenager Destanee Aiava, Naomi Osaka —­ the newest member of the Grand Slam winner’s brigade — quietly but assuredly answers when pushed on what she would advise her vanquished younger opponent.

“Don’t ask me for advice,” she laughs, before offering a follow-up.

“You can only just keep trusting the process. And when you’re young, it’s a little bit … easy to forget because you’re so in the moment, but when you look back, it’s like a gradual hill you’re climbing.”

It’s sound insight from one of the most enigmatic and gifted new names in tennis, a 21-year-old who climbed an almighty hill in 2018, stunning Serena Williams for her first Grand Slam title in the US Open final in September.

Seeded second, Osaka will take on No.8 seed Anastasija Sevastova for a place in the semi-finals on Thursday.

The Latvian holds a 2-1 lead in the duo’s head-to-head series, with all matches coming on hard courts.

World No.11 Sevastova retired from the sport in 2013 due to injuries, before mounting a comeback in 2015. She started last season with a semi-final run in Brisbane and reached her first slam semi-final at the US Open.

Four of the five matches on Pat Rafter Arena on Thursday feature a Japanese player — two of them favoured to reach a final, two of them surprise packets to have emerged from qualifying.

After missing Brisbane last season following wrist surgery, former world No.4 Kei Nishikori went back to the drawing board, returning to a lower-level Challenger event in Newport Beach after five months out.

After plummeting as low as No.39 in April, he reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and semi-finals at Flushing Meadows — both times falling to Novak Djokovic — to finish the year back inside the top 10.

In a rematch of the 2017 Brisbane final, No.2 seed Nishikori meets sixth seed, Grigor Dimitrov, Thursday night for a place in the semi-finals.

The Japanese star holds a 4-1 record over the Bulgarian, however, his lone defeat came in that Brisbane final, in what proved to be an emotional return to the winner’s circle for Dimitrov.

After arriving in Brisbane last year as defending champion and world No.3, Dimitrov fell to Nick Kyrgios in the semi-finals before an inconsistent season, which saw him finish just inside the top 20.

Making his first appearance in Brisbane in a decade, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is putting behind a torrid year of injuries in an attempt to rebuild his career.

The French former world No.5, a former Australian Open finalist, opened with a tough victory over Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis and will meet Japanese lucky loser, Taro Daniel, a late replacement for Rafael Nadal. Daniel won his first tour title last season in Istanbul and beat Djokovic at Indian Wells.

After taking down two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova on Wednesday, Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit spoke of following in the footsteps of her countrywoman, Kaia Kanepi, the surprise Brisbane champion in 2012. Kontaveit, 23,  finished last season in the top 20 for the first time.

She will meet Ukrainian world No.27 Lesia Tsurenko for a place in the semi-finals. Tsurenko was a Brisbane semi-finalist in 2013 and ended the run of Gold Coaster Kim Birrell in the second round.

Frenchman Jeremy Chardy conceded it was tough facing a mate but did not falter in beating one when he took down defending men’s champion, Kyrgios, on Wednesday. The world No.40 reached a grasscourt final at ’s-Hertogenbosch last season and meets Japanese qualifier Yasutaka Uchiyama for a semi-final berth.

Uchiyama defeated British No.3 seed Kyle Edmund on Wednesday.