Japanese tennis sensation Naomi Osaka beat Elise Mertens of Belgium on Saturday to reach the final of the Pan Pacific Open, thrilling her Japanese fans in the city of her birth.
Top seed Osaka dispatched No 9 seed Mertens 6-4, 6-1 in Osaka, western Japan, to reach her first final since winning the Australian Open.
The pair both held their serves for the first set until Osaka broke Mertens in the 10th game.
Osaka, 21, rounded into form in the second, and after the pair traded early breaks, won the last four games of the match to sprint to victory in just over an hour.
“It’s been kind of rough like the past couple of months so I’m really glad that I made it to the final,” she said.
She tried to stay calm because the 23-year-old Belgian player is “an amazing player and it’s so hard to hit her balls,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Osaka saw off Yulia Putintseva in straight sets, even as she was tricked at times by the Kazakh player’s slices and drop shots.
“For me, I learned a lot from when I played her at Wimbledon, and I know that a hard court is where I feel most comfortable,” Osaka told press after beeting Putintseva.
Last week, Osaka announced she was splitting with her coach, her second break-up this year as she battles to regain form after slipping from the top of the world rankings to number four.
Osaka had already caught the tennis world by surprise when she announced she was parting ways with coach Sascha Bajin, who had overseen her stunning rise to win two Grand Slams – the US Open in 2018 and the Australian Open title in January.
Her challenger in the final will be Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, 28, who ousted former world number one Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-3, 6-3.