Melbourne: Japan's Naomi Osaka rode her emotions as a third-round exit loomed at the Australian Open on Saturday, eventually finding laughter the best medicine for her faltering form.
The US champion conceded the first set to Taiwan's Hsieh Su-wei and was down 4-1 in the second before a five-game winning streak forced a decider and she took control for a 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 victory.
Fourth seed Osaka uncharacteristically blew her cool as she struggled against Hsieh's unorthodox strokeplay, receiving a warning for racquet abuse.
The 21-year repeatedly apologised for her outburst after the match and said it was laughter, not anger, that allowed her to advance to the last 16.
Osaka, who faces Latvian 13th seed Anastasija Sevastova next, said she found it difficult to settle veteran World No 27 Hsieh's dizzying mix of drop shots and slices.
"She hits very different from everyone else. I can never really tell where she's going to put the ball," Osaka said.
"She hits down the line and then hits a weird crosscourt. It's very, very hard to have a rally with her."
After taking her frustrations out on her racquet, Osaka tried a different approach and released a slightly manic laugh after Hsieh again succeeded with an unexpected shot.
'I got overwhelmed'
She said it released the tension and her fightback began.
"I walked into the match knowing that she was going to do a lot of strange things, no offence," Osaka said. "She was just playing so well and I think I got overwhelmed.
"I tried doing things that are not necessarily my game... then after a while, I started thinking 'I'm in a Grand Slam. I shouldn't be sad, I'm playing against a really great player, so I should just enjoy it and try and do the best I can'.
"I think that's why I laughed."
Osaka's win equals her best performance at the Australian Open, where she reached the last 16 in 2018 but lost to world number one Simona Halep.
Osaka started well, firing down two aces in her first service game before unleashing a backhand winner that left Hsieh wrong-footed.
But Hsieh pounced as the error-rate crept and the normally softly-spoken Osaka became agitated when she conceded three set points, dropping to her haunches as she tried to regain composure.
She saved one with an ace and managed to run Hsieh around to fend off another but hit a wild forehand over her opponent's head on the third to go down a set.
The second set began badly for Osaka when she conceded an early break and then continued to struggle as Hsieh zipped around the court making stunning returns.
"She didn't miss, she ran everything down," Osaka said. "I just felt like she was playing too good and I had to wait (but) it's a bit difficult to do that because my patience isn't so great."
She broke back against the run of play and built momentum with a crucial hold on break point before serving out the set on 42 minutes.
Osaka fell heavily late in the set but shook off any discomfort and proceeded to open the final set with a break after smashing a sizzling cross-court backhand.
She held to go 2-0 up, extending her winning streak to seven games.
Hsieh, 33, finally began to tire and the younger player was in control as she closed out the match.
The Great Diwali Discount!
Unlock 75% more savings this festive season. Get Moneycontrol Pro for a year for Rs 289 only.
Coupon code: DIWALI. Offer valid till 10th November, 2019 .
Updated Date: Jan 19, 2019 11:55:26 IST