Ashleigh Barty is still likely to end the year as women’s number one despite her loss in China. (AP: Mark Schiefelbein)
Naomi Osaka has put Ashleigh Barty’s quest for the year-end number one on hold for now after the Japanese’s three-set win in the China Open final.
- Ashleigh Barty can’t convert a one-set lead as Naomi Osaka takes out the China Open
- Barty still a decent chance of finishing 2019 as the world number one in women’s tennis
- John Millman, who will rise from 80 to 58 in the ATP rankings, praises Novak Djokovoc after succumbing to the Serb in Japan Open final
Osaka fought back to register a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win in one hour and 50 minutes in Beijing on Sunday.
Barty is still in a strong position to become the first Australian woman in the professional era to end the year on top of the rankings, however, as she remains more than 1,000 points clear of world number two Karolina Pliskova.
The Czech would likely need to win the year-ending championships in Shenzen combined with a poor run from Barty for this to happen.
Third-ranked Osaka and number four Elina Svitolina nominally remain in contention to top the rankings but would need a lot to go their way.
Things looked on track for Barty who started the final in composed fashion as her rival mixed sublime shot-making with unforced errors.
After five deuces on Osaka’s serve in the sixth game, Barty made the first breakthrough to take a 4-2 lead.
She eventually served out the set to love and looked to be in good shape to take her career record to 3-1 against Osaka before the 2018 US Open mounted a comeback.
Osaka’s returns began to find their range more and she broke for a 4-2 lead in the second set before serving it out to take the clash into a decider.
With three consecutive three-setters behind her in Beijing, including the semi-final against Kiki Bertens where she saved a match point, Barty appeared to tire in the third set.
Nineteen unforced errors in the final set took their toll on this year’s French Open winner, who was broken twice in the final set for Osaka to close out the match for her third title of 2019.
Millman falls short of maiden ATP title
Meanwhile, John Millman finished short of claiming his first ATP title after losing the final of the Japan Open in straight sets to Novak Djokovic.
The Australian was no match for the world number one, going down 6-3 6-2 in one hour, nine minutes.
“I want to congratulate Novak,” Millman said at the trophy presentation.
“It sounds silly to say but I hope that everyone all around the world realises just how good you are.
“You’re an absolute champion and you’re the type of person who is going to be remembered forever.
“Your legacy is continuing to build and will live on long after you’ve finished playing — but I’m sure you’ve got a fair few more years left, so congratulations.”
Still, it was an excellent week for Millman who is expected to get a rankings boost from number 80 to number 58 in the world as well as a pay day of $289,000.
The 30 year-old enjoyed a remarkable run through to what was just his second ATP final, winning a total of six matches — including two in qualifying.
He had survived three match points in his opening-round qualifier against American Bradley Klahn, but powered through the draw which opened up nicely for him as seeded players such as Borna Coric and Benoit Paire fell by the wayside.
Millman started confidently and pushed Djokovic in the opening service game on Sunday but was effectively playing catch-up for most of the set.
Djokovic required just one break in the fourth game to eventually take that first set, 6-3 in just half an hour.
Things started inauspiciously for the Queenslander in the second, getting broken after holding a 40-15 advantage.
From there, it was all the Serb as he charged through the set to claim his first title in Tokyo, fourth of the year and 76th of his career.