Wimbledon 2018

Wimbledon 2018: Naomi Osaka downs Katie Boulter to set big Angelique Kerber clash

Naomi Osaka beats Britain's Katie Boulter to reach the third round of Wimbledon

The day after one young British Katie went out of The Championships having won her first Major match here this week—19-year-old Katie Swan—her doubles partner, fellow Katie, the 21-year-old Boulter, would attempt to go one step further.

She too had won her first Major match, a tough three-setter against the woman ranked just one place below her at 123, Veronica Cepede Royg. But things were about to get a whole lot tougher. Boulter faced 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, one of the most talented young players on the tour who was already up to No18 in the ranks, and had made the third round here on her debut last year.

They had played just a fortnight ago on the grass of Birmingham, and Osaka conceded only three games in a 53-minute rout. However Boulter had gone on to reach the final of the ITF event in Southsea, beating three higher-ranked players before losing in three tough sets to Kirsten Flipkens.

After her doubles loss with Swan, Boulter was certainly upbeat:

“No, I don’t feel any pressure. I’m the underdog. I’m just going to go out there and enjoy every second of it and use the experience the best that I can.”

In her favour may have been an injury problem that Osaka picked up in her pre-Wimbledon run. The Japanese woman reached the semis in Nottingham, but was forced to retire with an abdominal problem in Birmingham and withdrew from Eastbourne with the same injury.

She was still wearing taping on her abdomen for this match, and perhaps her lack of grass court-time was the reason for her frustrated body language: she hit the soles of her shoes and punched her thighs. Boulter went after her serve with aggressive returning, in a long five-minute opener but could not convert two break chances.

Boulter’s own serving also came under immediate pressure, with Osaka taking on the second serve. The Japanese woman pummelled the Briton’s backhand and got the break, 2-0.

But still Osaka’s usually formidable serve let her down. She came into the match with the second fastest serve in the women’s draw so far, at 119mph, and she would equal that later in this match, for a double fault now brought up break-back point, and Boulter converted, but she was broken once more, and Osaka took the set with a forehand winner, 6-3.

Neither woman looked entirely comfortable as the match advanced through the second set. Boulter had an early chance to break in a testing second game, but once more, Osaka had just a bit more in her serve and baseline game to apply pressure. She broke in the fifth game, and served out the match, 6-4, after an hour and 18 minutes.

Both Boulter and Swan will rise to career highs after Wimbledon, the former possibly up to 112 or so—and into second place in the British women’s ranks—and the latter well inside the top 200 at around 180 for the first time.

So both have broken new ground in Major performance and ranking performance this week—something to build on.

Meanwhile Osaka will face No11 seed Angelique Kerber after the German put out the only remaining woman ranked outside the top 200 in draw, qualifier Claire Liu. Age just 18, Liu stretched Kerber all the way, in her second straight three-setter, having won three qualifying rounds as well. The popular German, however, served out the match, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 with a love hold and a huge roar.

So Kerber, the 2016 runner-up here, and a former world No1, keeps her campaign alive, but this is a tough quarter that still contains defending champion Garbine Muguruza and the No17 seed Ashleigh Barty, who continues to impress: She beat Eugenie Bouchard in straight sets.

Kerber and Osaka have clashed three times, all of them on hard courts last year. Osaka won in the US Open, while Kerber beat the Japanese in Tokyo and Beijing. It should make for fascinating viewing.

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