Barty reaches semi-finals as Osaka retires

AFP, CINCINNATI, Ohio

Sun, Aug 18, 2019 - Page 11

Ashleigh Barty on Friday edged closer to a return to the top WTA ranking after reaching the Western & Southern Open semi-finals as No. 1 Naomi Osaka retired with a knee injury.

Barty, the Australian top seed, engineered her second comeback in as many days, overhauling Maria Sakkari 5-7, 6-2, 6-0.

However, the US Open alarm bells were ringing for Osaka less than two weeks before the start of her title defense at Flushing Meadows, after a left-knee injury saw her retire against Sofia Kenin — sending the American into the semis with a 6-4, 1-6, 2-0 victory.

Men’s top seed Novak Djokovic also had the trainer on during his 7-6 (7/2), 6-1 victory over Lucas Pouille, but hoped discomfort in his right elbow would not linger.

“I managed to finish the match, there was a little bit of tightness in there,” Djokovic said. “Hopefully all will be fine for tomorrow.”

The 16-time Grand Slam champion is next to face Daniil Medvedev, who beat Russian compatriot Andrey Rublev 6-2, 6-3.

Osaka’s left-knee trouble was more of a concern, putting a cloud over her US Open title defense.

“Last year I won the US Open and this year I’m trying to play the US Open,” she said. “I don’t even really think about winning the tournament. I just want to have the chance to play it.”

Osaka had won the second set to level the match when she first complained of apparent knee pain and after one game of the third set called for the physio.

“This is not the way I wanted to win,” said Kenin, who will next play fellow American Madison Keys, a 6-2, 6-3 winner over Venus Williams.

Barty is to play for a place in the final against Russian veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova, who beat third seed Karolina Pliskova 3-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-3 to end the Czech’s chances of claiming the No. 1 ranking next week.

“I tried to play every point and stay in there,” Kuznetsova said. “She served amazing. She aced me almost every time I had a break point.”

Barty said a potential return to No. 1 would not be her focus this weekend.

“I’m in the semis for the first time here,” she said. “I’m not thinking of the ranking at all... I’m playing one match at a time. If I can win matches, the ranking will take care of itself.”

Elsewhere in the men’s draw, France’s Richard Gasquet earned his first Masters 1000 quarter-final victory in six years, defeating Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6 (7/2), 3-6, 6-2.

Gasquet won his last contest at this level in Miami in 2013 and had since lost seven Masters quarter-finals.

He is to play for a place in the final against 16th seed David Goffin, who advanced in a walkover against Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka, who could not take the court due to illness.

“It’s crazy for me to reach my first semi-final at this age,” added Gasquet, who at 33 finally made it to the semis in his 13th appearance.