Naomi Osaka was reduced to tears as she fought back to beat Belinda Bencic and set up a Miami Open final against incoming world number one Iga Swiatek of Poland.
The former world Number one came back from a set down to defeat the Olympic champion 4-6 6-3 6-4 and reach her first WTA Tour final since she triumphed at the 2021 Australian Open. It was a key win for Osaka after Bencic had won the pair’s last three meetings.
The tennis star entered this tournament ranked 77th in the world but she will leave Miami at least as high as 36th, and will be back in the top 30 if she wins the title. The four-time Grand Slam champion is only playing in her fourth event of the year, including her Australian Open title defence which ended in the third round.
Second seed Swiatek, who won the Indian Wells title last week, beat American Jessica Pegula 6-2 7-5.
Swiatek is the first player to reach the finals of both American hard-court events since Victoria Azarenka, who won both tournaments in 2016.
She is on a 16-match winning streak and has won 18 consecutive sets.
Swiatek has not faced Osaka since 2019, with the Japanese winning in straight sets, but has since gone on to lift her maiden Grand Slam title at the 2020 French Open.
“My second match on the WTA Tour, when I felt I am doing a breakthrough, was against Osaka,” she said.
“Even though I lost that match, it inspired me to work harder because she was number one back then.
“Right now I feel like I am on a different level, so I can actually compete. I’m really excited.”
Osaka looked emotional after sealing victory over Bencic, who had won her past three encounters.
The four-time Grand Slam champion had her Australian Open title defence ended in the third round in January and is playing just her fourth event of the year.
She will rise back into the top 30 should she win the title.
“I feel like if I was negative for a split second, I would have lost the match today,” Osaka said.
“I have to keep pumping myself up and I haven’t played as many matches as a lot of these other players so I just have to keep learning.”