By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Naomi Osaka offered a light-hearted apology to her racket sponsor for throwing a tantrum against Zheng Saisai at the Australian Open on Wednesday as the defending champion overcame her frustrations to set up a third-round clash with Coco Gauff.
After dropping serve early in the second set, third seed Osaka threw her racket, slammed a ball into the court and gave her racket a kick for good measure before steadying the ship and earning a 6-2 6-4 win on a gusty day at Margaret Court Arena.
“I mean, my racket just magically flew out of my hand,” Osaka told reporters with a smile.
“I couldn’t control it. Sorry, Yonex.
“I think that’s how I dealt with my frustration. It was a bit childish. I just want to play one match without throwing my racket or kicking it. That’s all I want.”
The match had echoes of her tempestuous third-round win over Hsieh Su-wei at the same venue last year when Osaka was driven to distraction by her opponent’s unorthodox game of drop-shots and slices.
Osaka ultimately came back from a set down to overhaul Hsieh and went on to claim her second Grand Slam title with another stormy victory over Petra Kvitova.
“Yeah, it’s really tough, because you start thinking she’s not hitting winners,” said Osaka, who was desperate to avoid a third set against the 42nd-ranked Zheng.
“You’re the one making all the errors. And you try to tell yourself not to make that many errors, but you have to go for those balls.
“So it’s like you’re walking a very fine line between being very aggressive or attempting to push but that’s her game. So it’s very hard.”
After her tantrum, Osaka was broken again and fell 4-2 behind but shrugged off the setback with a wry smile before blowing Zheng off court in a firestorm of winners.
Gauff, the 15-year-old American sensation, set up a blockbuster rematch with her U.S. Open conqueror Osaka by beating Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 4-6 6-3 7-5 at a heaving Melbourne Arena.
Osaka defeated Gauff 6-3 6-0 in the third round at Flushing Meadows before her title defense was ended by Belinda Bencic in the next match.
“I played her at the U.S. Open so I know what to expect,” Gauff said of Osaka in her on-court interview.
“I think she’s a great competitor on and off the court.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)