Champion Osaka crashes out to big-hitting American Anisimova

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MELBOURNE, Jan 21 (Reuters) - American Amanda Anisimova, ranked 60th in the world, saved two matchpoints and smashed winners at will to beat reigning champion Naomi Osaka 4-6 6-3 7-6 (10-5) in the third round of the Australian Open on Friday.

Anisimova produced a superb display to knock out the Japanese and disappoint those who had been salivating at the prospect of a fourth-round showdown between the four-times major winner and Australian world number one Ash Barty.

"I just want to soak in this moment," Anisimova told reporters. "I'm just extremely happy. It was an amazing match. It was very close.

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"It sucks we couldn't both win today, because these matches are hard. Honestly, I think she's a very nice girl. These days are kind of tough."

Osaka, who has won all her major titles on hardcourts, had two opportunities to close out the match in the 10th game of the deciding set.

But she watched helplessly as the 20-year-old Anisimova, who has seen her ranking plummet due to injury issues, saved both and then converted her first opportunity in the deciding super tiebreak with an ace to seal the match.

The American dropped her racquet and hid her face with her palms as the crowd at the Margaret Court Arena exploded in appreciation.

Anisimova, who reached a career-high ranking of 21 in 2019, threaded 46 winners in the match, while Osaka could manage only 21.

"I was just thinking to myself that it's going to be a really good test for me today to see where I'm at. I know I'm coming off a title," said Anisimova, who won a tune-up event in Melbourne ahead of the year's first major.

"But honestly haven't had that many top wins, I feel like with Naomi that I had today. I just really wanted to see where my game is at and if I can handle it, like try to win today.

"I think this is a huge boost of confidence for me."

It was the fourth time that Osaka failed to successfully defend a Grand Slam title.

The Japanese said she was surprised by the pace behind Anisimova's shots and it left her with very little time to adjust.

"I thought her return was definitely really amazing," said the 24-year-old Osaka, who missed a chunk of the 2021 season due to mental health issues.

"I almost felt like I was fighting for my life out there in some games. I honestly also thought that I won certain games just based on sheer willpower.

"It's kind of interesting when you're playing against someone, you feel like you want to learn from them, as well. Because I also feel like I want to return the way that she returns."

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Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Alex Richardson and Toby Davis and Christian Radnedge

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