Naomi Osaka’s alarming lack of tournament wins is one of the great mysteries of tennis

Kevin Palmer
Naomi Osaka disappointed
Naomi Osaka of Japan after her match

She may be a four-time Grand Slam champion, yet Naomi Osaka’s surprisingly poor record on the WTA Tour may come as something of a surprise.

The Japanese star is back on court after giving birth to her first child last year and she made an encouraging return to action in Australia last month.

Osaka’s performance in her opening round match against Danielle Collins in Abu Dhabi was something of a concern as she appeared to lose interest in the contest after losing the first set and was beaten 7-5 6-0.

There will be questions for Osaka to answer after her limp display in her latest match, yet these are still early days in the comeback of the world No 1.

Yet we should not be surprised when Osaka fails to shine in WTA Tour events as history confirms this champion tends to perform at her best when the stakes are highest.

She won the US Open in 2018 and 2020 and also claimed the title at the Australian Open in 2019 and 2021.

Yet outside of those four big wins, Osaka has won just three WTA Tour level events in her entire career.

She claimed the Indian Wells title in 2018 and clinched the China Open crown the following year, with both of those wins coming in elite WTA 1000 events.

Osaka also won the Pan Pacific Open in 2019, but brings to an end her list of tournament titles.

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So while she is regarded as one of the game’s all-time greats due to her four Grand Slam title wins, her lack of success in other tournaments is something of a surprise.

By way of contrast, Belgian star Kim Clijsters also won four Grand Slam titles in her career, but her total for tournament wins was an impressive 41.

Current world No 1 Iga Swiatek has also won four Grand Slam titles in her relatively short career and has also won 13 additional titles at WTA Tour level.

Osaka’s total of seven tournament wins is in stark contrast to the all-time greats of the game, with the legendary Martina Navratilova winning 167 tournaments in her singles career.

Her great rival Chris Every won 157 tournaments, German great Steffi Graf won 107 and Serena Williams finished her career with 73 titles at the top level of the game.

Osaka is unlikely to get anywhere near those figures in her career, yet she has suggested her comeback is focused on winning more Grand Slam titles as she gets used to travelling and spending time away from her daughter as she relaunches her career.

“In the first chapter of my tennis I kind of got away with just being myself and playing with my instincts,” she told Japanese broadcaster NHK at the start of her comeback.

“I think I want to be someone that understands the game a lot more.

“I definitely want to win more Grand Slams and I guess put in more time in the French Open and Wimbledon, and play the Paris Olympics.

“I kind of like the feeling of having the responsibility of having to take care of Shai (her daughter) and wanting to show her around the world. I kind of feel more like I’m playing for her.

“I still think my level is improving every day and I think that I can be better, and I hope that I will be better. I’m always the type of person that would rather set really high goals and maybe I’ll do only 25 per cent of that but the 25 per cent is still really amazing.

“I don’t think that I would have come back and be like, ‘Oh my goal is to get to the quarter-final of a slam’, which is still really good but that’s not why I’m spending time away from Shai.”

Osaka will continue to be offered wildcards into top level events, but she will need to confirm her desire to play in these WTA Tour events is burning brightly after a disappointingly flat display in Abu Dhabi.