In-form Naomi Osaka looks to stamp her authority further as she returns at Miami Open

Tennis Features
Naomi Osaka zoning in

Very few players have played at the level Naomi Osaka has since the WTA Tour restarted last August.

The Japanese has won all of the 21 matches she has played, a run of success that has seen her take second titles at the US Open and Australian Open in the past six months or so.

However, we have still not seen much of her since the WTA restarted after its five-month suspension in 2020.

Osaka withdrew from the Western and Southern Open final last year and her semi-final at the Gippsland Trophy in Melbourne, and they are the only two events she has played outside her Grand Slam titles.

The Japanese has managed her schedule carefully, not playing last year’s revised clay-court season or the Middle East swing after the Australian Open.

However, the world No 2 is now back on Tour at the Miami Open and will be backed by many to continue her stellar run of form.

She is undoubtedly the best player on the WTA right now and the event in Florida is perfect for her, taking place on speedy hard courts in conditions not too different to those that can be found in Melbourne.

Osaka has not had much success in Miami to date, though has never approached the tournament with this level of confidence and consistency before and it would take some performance to beat her.

Ahead of the tournament, she said: “I feel like the level of women’s tennis has really risen. Everyone is really strong. Everyone has the capability of winning matches.”

Whilst that may be true, it would most likely take a special performance to beat her.

When she was down two match points in the fourth round of the Australian Open to Garbine Muguruza, the Japanese stormed back and won the final four games, showing just how tricky it is to beat her currently.

The field is certainly stacked, with Serena Williams the only top 20 player not in action, and the likes of Muguruza, Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep will also in contention, but it is hard to bet against Osaka now.

Speaking to WTA Insider, she added: “I actually don’t feel any pressure. It’s not like I’m defending here. I’ve never even made the second week here.

“I want to see how well I can do.”

That does not bode well for her competitors.

She has demonstrated a dominance of hard courts recently, and will be well-rested having not played since beating Jennifer Brady in the Australian Open final.

Osaka is on the same side of the draw as the likes of Brady and Muguruza, though in general her draw in Miami is very good and it is hard to see her being tested in the early stages if she plays well.

Though she is not currently world No 1, she will reclaim the top spot on the WTA Rankings if she reaches the final and Ashleigh Barty fails to reach the same stage.

A return to the top spot will be justified considering what she has achieved recently, and the Miami Open could well be another step in what may become a hugely dominant streak on the Tour.

Follow Oli Jefford on Twitter @odicksonjefford.

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