Beijing belonged to Thiem and Osaka

Naomi Osaka – photo: China Open

WASHINGTON, October 7, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

When top seed Dominic Thiem came from a set and a break down in beating No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, to win the ATP 500 China Open Sunday evening in Beijing, according to one eye witness, the Austrian star entered a zone in which he “knocked the cover off the ball” as he ripped winner after winner. “No stopping him.”

Indeed, it was terrific watching Thiem win his fourth ATP title of the year – including his second 500 level triumph. His win over Tsitsipas was both a jaw-dropper as well as a bit scary. Everything seemed to come together for Thiem against the young Greek star, who despite all of the emotional baggage he’s been carrying – thanks to his proclivity for social media activities – is starting to play good tennis. Nothing like coming on strong at the end of the year, at a time when some are coasting toward the season-ending finals while others have simply run out of gas. Thiem has qualified fifth for the ATP Race to London, but is anything but coasting to the O2 Arena, while Tsitsipas, who won last year’s Next Gen ATP Finals, is currently in seventh place.

Thiem called his victory over Tsitsipas, which yielded his 15th career title, one of the best matches he’s every played. “It feels great because today was for me one of the best matches I’ve played in my life,” he said during his post-match news conference. “Game style wise and also how I came back, it’s definitely one of my biggest titles because the tournament is so strong, the draw was so strong. Makes me very happy that I stand as the champion at the end of the week.”

Osaka beats Barty

Earlier Sunday, after reigning Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka lost the first set to this year’s French Open champion and Aussie native Ashleigh Barty, 6-3, in the women’s final, her Haitian father and coach, Leonard François – her third coach this year following Sascha Bajin and Jermaine Jenkins – came down and shared a father-to-daughter chat: “You have a problem out there that needs solving … if you stay calm, you can work it out.”

Osaka did just that. In a highly entertaining battle between the current and most-recent No. 1 players, the Japanese-born Osaka regained her focus and eagerly won the next two sets against Barty, 6-3, 6-2, breaking her three times and dropping serve only once during the one hour and 50 minute final. Although Barty saved a match point, Osaka out-rallied her opponent with some clutch shotmaking and evened their career head-to-head at 2-2.

She’s now won 10 consecutive matches following her fourth-round loss to Belinda Bencic at the U.S. Open while lifting back-to-back titles for the first time in her career, at Osaka and Beijing. Both are great indicators that her game’s headed in the right direction as she awaits the WTA Finals in Shenzhen later this month.

“Basically, I was telling myself to keep fighting even though my attitude was really trash – this is a final, I’m really privileged to be here in the first place, so keep fighting!” Osaka said during her post-match press conference.

Osaka is now 16-3 in 3-set matches this season and 5-2 in finals in her career. “I feel like I wasn’t that calm here (at the tournament). I threw my racquet, like, once every match. I really wanted to win here, I felt like I had something to prove,” she said.

By winning the China Open for her third title this year and fifth in her career, Osaka captured the final WTA Premier Mandatory tournament of the year and improved her world ranking to No 3. (Barty will remain at No. 1.) It was her second win over a fellow Grand Slam champion in three days after defeating U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Canada, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, in Friday’s quarterfinal round. The loss was Andreescu’s first to a Top 10 player after going 8-0.

“It feels good,” added Osaka. “For me, this was my goal. After I lost in the US Open – I pretty much don’t want to say I planned – but I really meditated on it. It just feels like I accomplished what I set out to do.”

Both men’s and women’s tennis has so much going for it with plenty of fresh new stars emerging from many different continents. This past weekend in Beijing, which belonged to Thiem and Osaka, reinforced that the sport will be in good hands once the Big Three – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who won his 76th tour-level title Sunday in Tokyo – on the men’s side and Serena Williams, whose ongoing pursuit for a 24th major singles crown on the women’s side garners much interest, call it a day and pass their racquets on to the next generation.

Hopefully, Thiem and Tsitsipas, both in their early twenties and ranked fifth and seventh in the world, respectively, as well as Osaka (21), Barty (23) and Andreescu (19), can provide fans with some genuine, long-running rivalries. Their games match up beautifully and each contributes worthwhile qualities to the sport of tennis. We can all be hopeful.