Naomi Osaka reveals she is ‘copying’ Novak Djokovic to improve in key area

Ewan West
Naomi Osaka smiles during a match in Doha
Naomi Osaka reacts during a match in Doha

Naomi Osaka has divulged that she has made an adjustment to her return and has “copied” tennis legend Novak Djokovic after earning the second victory since her comeback.

The four-time major champion described Djokovic as “the best returner in the world” and revealed her return of serve was one area of her game she feels “should be much better.”

Osaka defeated Caroline Garcia 7-5, 6-4 in the opening round of the WTA 1000 tournament in Doha to claim her second win in her fifth match since returning to the tour.

The 26-year-old played her first tournament for 14 months at the Brisbane International last month and won her opening match against Tamara Korpatsch.

The former world No 1, who is ranked 747th in the WTA Rankings, had not competed since the WTA tournament in Tokyo in September 2022. She gave birth to her daughter Shai in July 2023.

After her win over Korpatsch, Osaka lost three straight matches: to Karolina Pliskova in Brisbane, Garcia at the Australian Open, and Danielle Collins in Abu Dhabi last week.

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Following her victory against Garcia in Doha, Osaka was asked if she had made a change to her return of serve.

“I did change my return – I don’t want to say ‘style’, but I guess form. I don’t know how to describe it,” the Japanese explained in a post-match interview.

“Like, before I was taking one step, one step, and then jumping in, but now I’m kind of just jumping in with both feet, because apparently Djokovic does that, so why not copy the best returner in the world?

“I had a conversation with Wim [Fissette] and it was a little frustrating knowing that my service is one of the best in the world, but I wanted to work on the things that I know should be much better and the [return] was one of them.”

In a recent interview with The National, Osaka spoke about the change she has noticed in two-time Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka since her return.

“I’ve always felt like she was a player that people didn’t really want to play. And that’s something that’s very powerful,” the 26-year-old said.

“I’m not really surprised by any of this. I feel like there’s players that people talk about and when you see them achieve their potential, it’s not surprising. It’s just kind of more of a time can only tell moment.

“The biggest difference that I’ve seen since coming back on tour, granted I have my headphones off now, it’s just she has a different energy around her. I see her smiling more, so that’s really nice and it’s really just cool to see.”

Osaka will face world No 67 Petra Martic in the second round in Doha on Tuesday. She could then meet world No 6 Ons Jabeur in the third round.

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