Get your popcorn ready, because it is happening.
For the first time since their contentious showdown in last year’s US Open final, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka will face off in what is arguably the most intriguing quarter-final matchup at Rogers Cup presented by National Bank.
Serena kicked Thursday night off with a 7-5, 6-4 straight-sets victory over Russian qualifier Ekaterina Alexandrova. She made Rogers Cup history in the process by earning her 32nd career win on Canadian soil, which matches the tournament record held by Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the Open Era.
Serena could lay claim to the record on Friday against her rival Osaka. The World No. 2 set the stage for the rematch when she defeated the 18-year-old Iga Swiatek with a 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory. It marks the first time in Osaka’s career she’s gone beyond the round of 16 at Rogers Cup.
As mentioned earlier, Osaka and Williams last met in the final at Flushing Meadows only a year ago. It was there that the Japanese star outplayed the 23-time Grand Slam champion to earn her first career Slam – winning in straight sets 6-2, 6-4. Osaka has since gone on to win the Australian Open back in January.
For Serena, Thursday night certainly had its ups and downs – which could be a concern going into Friday’s night heavyweight match. In both the first and second sets, the 37 year old American found herself trailing. Down 3-0 and by a double break in the first set, Williams busted out the “business bun” and reeled off four games in a row – capping off her run with one of five aces in the set. Eventually, she closed it out by converting her fourth set point.
A nearly identical scenario played itself out in the second set. Serena rallied from a 2-0 hole and needed four match points before booking her spot in the quarters. This could prove problematic against a player of Osaka’s caliber.
The 21 year old from Japan will also be playing to regain the World No. 1 ranking. She recently lost that distinction to Ashleigh Barty thanks to some poor play over the clay-court and grass-court seasons. But with the North American swing bringing the tour back to the hard courts, Osaka seems rejuvenated. It wouldn’t be a surprised at all to see her reach her first Canadian final and hoist the trophy.
But let’s not forget the history that Serena holds in Canada. In seven of eight previous career Rogers Cup appearances, Williams has failed to reach the semi-finals on one occasion. The only time she failed to do it came back in 2005, when she was forced to withdraw from her third-round match against Flavia Pennetta with a knee injury.
Halep, Bouzkoza set to play QF under the lights
After a slow-start at Rogers Cup, Simona Halep seems to building momentum in an attempt to defend her Canadian title in Toronto.
The No.4-seeded Romanian was dominant in a 6-2, 6-1 win over Svetlana Kuznetsova in a match that lasted just 67 minutes. This came on the heels of Halep’s two-and-a-half hour marathon against Jennifer Brady on Wednesday. But the reigning Wimbledon champion seems to be gaining momentum after winning her seventh consecutive match on Canadian soil. She has also won 13 of her last 14 Rogers Cup matches.
Marie Bouzkova will try her best to put a stop to this run by the defending Rogers Cup champion. Bouzkova booked her first-ever WTA quarter-final spot by easily defeating Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-2. The 21 year from Czech Republic has already shown she is very much capable of rising to the occasion.
Coming into her second-round match against the No. 7 seed Sloane Stephens, Bouzkova had been 0-7 against any player ranked in the Top 50. That obviously changed on Tuesday night when she downed Stephens in straight set. She could very well do it again against Halep on Friday night – especially if she puts together a performance like the one she put did against Ostapenko on Thursday evening.