Some words from the coach inspire Osaka’s quarterfinal win

Naomi Osaka responded to some courtside coaching advice in the most emphatic way, conceding just five points in the second set on her way to a 3-6, 6-0, 6-4 win over eighth-seeded Anastasija Sevastova in the Brisbane International quarterfinals on Thursday.

The U.S. Open champion was clearly under pressure in the first set, when she made 15 unforced errors and had fewer winners than Sevatsova, who broke her serve twice.

After Sevatsova clinched the first set with a backhand drop shot from the baseline, a disconsolate-looking Osaka went to a courtside chair at the changeover.

Whatever her coach Sascha Bajin, a former hitting partner for Serena Williams, told her during an animated courtside conference worked.

She finished with 11 aces to four, converted all four of her break-point chances in the second and third sets and appeared far more confident in her own game.

Osaka didn’t go into details in an on-court interview about what Bajin told her, but conceded it sharpened her focus.

“I mean, I was just trying to stay calm. Was trying to tell myself, ‘she’s one of the best players in the world. I just have to stay in there, and hopefully I’ll get a chance,'” Osaka said. “I did, so I just kept trying to roll with it.”

The 21-year-old Osaka will play either Lesia Tsurenko or Anett Kontaveit in the semifinals, and now could rise as high as No. 3 in the world rankings next week — which would be a high for a player from Japan — and a confidence boost ahead of the Australian Open, which starts Jan. 14.

Jeremy Chardy beat Japanese qualifier Yasutaka Uchiyama 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (4) to be first through to the semifinals, where he’ll meet either No. 2-seeded Kei Nishikori or 2017 champion and six-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, who play later Thursday.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga got an easier path through to the quarterfinals than expected, avoiding a second-round contest with 17-time major winner Rafael Nadal, who withdrew from the tournament with a thigh muscle strain on Wednesday.

Tsonga had a 7-6 (5), 6-3 win over Taro Daniel. The No. 77-ranked Daniel was the lucky loser from qualifying who got a spot in the main draw when Nadal pulled out.

“You go from the challenger to the guy that is supposed to win — it’s not easy,” Tsonga, the 2008 Australian Open finalist, said of the difference. It was the first time in almost a year that Tsonga recorded back-to-back wins at the elite level after spending most of 2018 out following knee surgery in April.

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