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Tennis: Japan's Osaka captivating Australian Open spectators

Japan's Naomi Osaka hits a forehand return to Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic during their semifinal at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

MELBOURNE (Kyodo) -- Australian Open spectators applauded Naomi Osaka's on-court strength and humility Thursday after her nail-biting semifinal victory against Karolina Pliskova.

Cheering in both English and Japanese for the U.S. Open women's champion started early in the match, but the crowd at Rod Laver Arena backed themselves squarely in Osaka's corner during a tough second set when she lost momentum against the seventh-seeded Czech.

"As expected, Pliskova was a strong opponent. I became quite nervous during the match," spectator Makoto Miyashita told Kyodo News. The 31-year-old Melbourne-based tour guide said the match was "wonderful" and praised Osaka's on-court humility.

"Osaka would always applaud Pliskova when she made a good shot. I think that shows good manners," he said.

Ramon Lackman, 56, was one of many spectators who yelled encouragement to Osaka during the nearly two-hour match.

"She's a darling of the courts," the Manila native said. "She's so humble, so adorable and has a really nice temperament."

Lackman said he had been a fan of Osaka since her upset victory over Serena Williams at the U.S. Open. He said her athletic playing style made her an exciting player to watch.

"I notice she really bends low, kneels down almost, to pick up the shots and then gets it back so strong, so solid. That's a real strength," he said. "She shocks the opponent with that."

Osaka and Pliskova played under a closed roof as temperatures in Melbourne hit 40 C.

In her post-match interview, Osaka said she was disappointed to play in the cooler conditions.

"To be honest, I like the heat, so I was kind of sad about that," she said.

The comment was met with laughter from the crowd, who had earlier erupted in applause when the decision to close the roof was announced.

Osaka's fans have their fingers crossed for her to claim her first Australian Open title on Saturday when she faces off against two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.

"Watching the semifinal was a memorable experience," said Akoho Koike, 27, from Tochigi Prefecture. "I think she will win the final."

Another spectator, Jan Tyro, 72, said she was looking forward to seeing Osaka again in the final. "She's got great potential and she's going to get so much better."

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