Asian players enjoyed a successful day at the Australian Open. Representation from the continent was continued in both draws and with no little element of support. Geographically speaking, the Melbourne-based tournament is the closest Grand Slam to Asia and the diaspora from countries such as China, Japan and South Korea is quite substantial in Australia. Without major changes to the schedule, there will not be a Grand Slam event based in Asia, so playing well in Australia is quite important to the Asian stars, including big favourite Naomi Osaka.
Asian players victorious on Day 3
Yoshihito Nishioka continued the male challenge with an excellent victory over thirty-first seed Daniel Evans. The Japanese has carried the largest weight of expectation since the withdrawal of Kei Nishikori pre-tournament. He extended his head-to-head record against the Briton to 3-0 as he dominated all three sets.
Most of the Asian continents leading female players made a massive impact on Day 3. Defending champion Naomi Osaka had to defeat China’s Saisai Zheng, but did so quite comfortably 6-2 6-4. The in-form Shuai Zhang took out young American prospect Caty McNally by exactly the same scoreline. Qiang Wang, meanwhile, barely broke sweat as she triumphed over Fiona Ferro for the loss of just three games.
It wasn’t all success for the continent’s players though. Tatsuma Ito succumbed to his impossible task against Novak Djokovic in three sets. Lin Zhu played poorly against Alison Riske and Nao Hibino lost a tight match against Maria Sakkari.
Asian heritage at the Australian Open
There is a history of success for Asian singles players at the Australian Open. Li Na became the first-ever Grand Slam finalist from Asia in singles competition in 2011. She would use this experience to good effect in the very next Grand Slam by becoming Asia’s first singles Grand Slam champion at Roland-Garros.
Li Na returned to the final in Australia twice more. Falling to Victoria Azarenka in 2013 but finally winning the title against Dominika Cibulkova in 2014. The arena on that day was heavily populated with Chinese fans and was thought to have had a massive impact on the country itself.
Chinese players specifically have done far better at the Australian Open than any of the other Grand Slam events. The doubles pair Zi Yan and Jie Zheng won in 2006, Sun Tiantian took the mixed title in 2008 and Shuai Zhang is the current Women’s Doubles champion after partnering Samantha Stosur to a very popular title win last year. This total of titles in Australia matches the number won at all the other slams combined.
Naomi Osaka at the forefront
Osaka’s title win last year cemented her place at the forefront of Asian tennis. Though we haven’t yet seen the influx of Asian stars perhaps expected since Na Li’s initial success, that time may yet be just around the corner.
There are teenage Chinese women inside the WTA top 200 and three junior Grand Slam titles have fallen to Asian boys in the last three years. Wu Yibing and Tseng Chun-hsin won the US Open, French Open and Wimbledon between them.
Whilst it is still Osaka who has by far the most realistic chance of glory at the end of the tournament, it would be great for Asia to have as many representatives as possible going far into the tournament. Eyes turn to Yuichi Sugita tonight to see if he can upset the Russian Andrey Rublev.
Osaka’s next match will be a blockbuster against Cori Gauff. Japan expects. Osaka will have a lot of support and that may fire her to a successful Australian Open defence.