September 5, 2020,

Even in defeat, some players are so fascinating that it is inevitable that you will make an emotional connection with them and remember them for some time to come.

The US Open is always the perfect setting for that to happen.

We sure miss the crowd but the tennis is still top notch and enthralling.

Just ask mega star Naomi Osaka who was pushed to the limit by Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk.

Talk about nail biters and stomach churners.

In the beginning, as usual when a Naomi Osaka match begins in the early rounds of a Grand Slam, there is an expectation that Naomi with steam roll once she finds her rhythm.

In her match against Marta, the Ukrainian kept interrupting Naomi’s choice of music.

As posted by, “Osaka took on the 18-year-old Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk, an exploitive player ranked misleadingly at No 137 in the world. Kostyuk upended No. 31 seed Anastasija Sevastova in the second round. She had absolutely nothing to lose in her first career confrontation against Osaka.”

Marta certainly played that way.

Not wild and reckless mind you, but willing to take guided missile risks.

Early on in the match, we wondered if the tightness of the battle was due to Marta’s stellar play or the fact that Naomi is still nursing a thigh injury.

Previously Naomi withdrew from the final of the Western & Southern Open against Victoria Azarenka last weekend due to a hamstring injury.

Some wondered out loud and in print if Naomi would even play at the US Open due to the combination of her injury and the threat of the coronavirus.

Her third-round slugfest against Marta turned into a very demanding engagement which grew increasingly complicated and perhaps made Naomi wonder if she should have rested.

Perish that thought.

Though Marta kept hitting one incredible shot after another, making it very clear that she was not backing down, Naomi still held on to take the first set 6-3.

Despite spraying 18 unforced errors, Marta was starting to find her range.

She then took a long break at the changeover that lasted more than eight minutes to get her ankle taped.

Then things got really interesting.  

After winning the first set, this is the time that Naomi typically solidifies but Marta kept hanging around so that she couldn’t. In between screaming to herself and yelling to her mother in the stands, the Ukrainian 18 year old power house kept matching Naomi point for point and game for game until she found herself ahead in the second set.

Naomi became so frustrated that she threw her racquet. Very uncharacteristic for the normally serene, self-calming Japanese National.

Maybe it’s because she now lives in Los Angeles. Upscale La La Land can sometimes do that to you.

As we watched Marta refuse to go away, we could firmly see that Naomi was in a dog fight, questioning herself and ultimately crumbling as Marta out played and out toughed her to win the second set, 7-6, outscoring Naomi in the tie breaker, 7-4.

The team at Newsday observed, “As she occasionally does in  pressure moments, Osaka sat with a towel over her head on the changeover after second set, seeking what she calls her inner peace. That was after failing to convert any of six break points in the second set that would have led to a relatively comfortable Friday afternoon on Arthur Ashe Stadium in the third round of the U.S. Open.”

For a moment, it was easy to wonder if Naomi could gather herself. She was the far more experienced player but Marta appeared to be fired up and completely unfazed.

Over decades, we’ve seen many lower ranked players push the higher seed, hit some great shots and then take a set. Even after all of that, we never remotely feel that they are going to win the match. They always find a way to make bad decisions or get nervous and their game goes down. Then the favorite gathers herself and wins the third set, finishing them off.

We absolutely didn’t get that feeling here.

Marta was hitting so many great shots, had so much passion and the momentum that we felt Naomi was in big trouble.

And she was.


Once the third set began, there was no let up from the 18 year old. As soon as Naomi tried to take control, Marta would hit an incredible shot. She also began to tee off on Naomi’s second serve.

Trailing one game to two in the third set, Naomi found herself down 0-40 on her serve, potentially digging herself into a massive hole with Marta more than happy to provide her with a shovel.

Then Naomi’s serve finally kicked in.

Marta had her chance to go up 3-1 and after frustrating Naomi by securing the second set, this would have been her time to surge. She shouldn’t have let that game slip away.

She continued to fight gamely but once Naomi broke her to go up 3-2 in the second set, something obvious and very unfortunate happened.

Marta tapped out.

Her game became perfunctory and her fight was gone.

Now she did become reckless, spraying darts everywhere except in the lines.

Naomi, in championship form, smelled blood in the water and seized upon her opportunity for the TKO. She raced ahead, reeling off 4 games in a row and Marta was ousted.

Who is this 18 year old wonder from Ukraine?

On the junior tour, Marta has a career-high ranking of No. 2, achieved on October 30, 2017. After the 2016 Petits As, she won the 2017 Australian Open girls’ singles championships.

Incredible accomplishments.

In May of 2017, she won an ITF tournament in Dunakeszi (Hungary), becoming the youngest Ukrainian to win a professional title in singles-player category. In the whole tournament, she did not lose a single set.

In October, she won the year-end junior girls tournament, the ITF Junior Masters in Chengdu, China.

What a year. What a player.

In 2018 she continued to impress.

Marta made her main draw tour-level debut at the Australian Open.

Having received a wild card-entry into the qualifying tournament, she defeated Arina Rodionova, Daniela Seguel and Barbora Krejčíková to become the first player born in 2002 to play in a Grand Slam main draw.

By defeating Peng Shuai in the first round, Marta became the youngest player to win a main-draw match in Melbourne since Martina Hingis in 1996.

In the second round, she defeated Australian wild card Olivia Rogowska in straight sets. In doing this, she became the youngest player to reach the third round of a Grand Slam event since Mirjana Lučić-Baroni reached the same stage at the 1997 US Open.

Marta definitely has some street creds.

She just didn’t come out of nowhere. It is her youth that is the amazing and stunning part of her ascendance.

Should we curb our enthusiasm about Marta?


How many new and shiny bright teenage luminaries have we seen over the years push a top player to their limits at a Grand Slam, much press is written about their potential and their ability to become a top player and then, within a few years, they fade into obscurity?

We have truly seen that too often.

Will that be Marta’s fate?

We sure hope not. With her on court pain, passion and incredible shot making, she absolutely can make you feel connected. Inspired even.

We absolutely want to see more of her.

For years to come.

The only concern we had in watching Marta in her brutal battle with Naomi, and it is a major one, was how quickly she conceded the third set. She was only down 2-3 but had no fight left. Demoralized she immediately caved in. The match clearly wasn’t over. Naomi had the momentum but one errant serve here or an unforced error sprayed there and Marta is right back in it.

What if Naomi’s injury began to flare?

Never tap out early. Never.

If Marta truly wants to be the next great top player, she has to learn how to come from behind, even when she has been demoralized.

Naomi Osaka, injuries and all, has proven that over and over.

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OPEN PHOTO,,, articles, ABC photo credit