Update: Naomi Osaka had on Thursday withdrawn from the tournament to protest against racial inequality in the United States, but has now decided to participate after the tournament joined in her protest.
Fixture: Naomi Osaka vs Elise Mertens
Date: 28 August 2020
Tournament: Western & Southern Open 2020
Venue: Flushing Meadows, New York, USA
Category: WTA Premier 5
Surface: Outdoor hardcourt
Prize money: $1,950,079
Match timing: 11 am EDT, 8.30 pm IST
Live telecast: USA - Tennis Channel / ESPN
Naomi Osaka vs Elise Mertens preview
Naomi Osaka and Elise Mertens are set to face off for a place in the final of the first WTA Premier tournament since the COVID-19 pandemic. The two young stars will battle it out in the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open in New York on Thursday.
Osaka, who was completely inactive during the lockdown period, came into the tournament with a dearth of match play. But after a bye in the first round, she more than held her own in a closely-fought three-setter against Karolina Muchova.
In the third round against Dayana Yastremska, the Japanese international seemed to be back at her best; she won 6-3, 6-1 without conceding a single break of serve. Her quarterfinal match against Anett Kontaveit, however, proved to be much more difficult; after finding herself down 4-6 0-2*, she rallied to take the match 4-6 6-2 7-5.
Elise Mertens, on the other hand, has been one of the surprise packages of post-lockdown tennis. After an impressive run in Prague where she reached the final, Mertens made the transition to American hardcourts seamlessly and defeated Rebecca Peterson, Kristina Mladenovic and Veronika Kurdermetova in her first three matches.
Her quarterfinal matchup against Jessica Pegula had seemed likely to be a tricky one. But the Belgian quickly dispatched the American 6-3, 6-1 to set up a semifinal encounter against Osaka.
Naomi Osaka vs Elise Mertens head-to-head
The meeting at the Western & Southern Open is set to be the third between Naomi Osaka and Elise Mertens, with the head-to-head currently standing at 1-1.
Their last meeting was at the Osaka Open last year, where the Japanese won in straight-sets. Before that the two had met in a tight first-round match at the 2017 Wuhan Open, which Mertens won in three sets.
Naomi Osaka vs Elise Mertens prediction
Despite their rankings and previous history on the tour over the last few years, Elise Mertens comes into the match as the favorite due to her excellent post-lockdown form. But after withdrawing from the doubles event due to a leg injury, the Belgian would have some cause for concern.
As the highest-ranked player left in the draw, Naomi Osaka would be fancying her chances of going all the way. Her comeback against Kontaveit saw the Japanese bring out her most ferocious tennis when it mattered the most, and by the end she was hammering down big serves at will.
But Mertens, who is in good serving form herself, has proved over the past month that she is more than capable of holding her own against the most aggressive hitters on the tour. If she is fully fit for the match on Thursday, her proven tactical abilities could be enough to trump Osaka.
Prediction: Elise Mertens to win in three sets.Published 27 Aug 2020, 03:31 IST