Pan Pacific Open draw: Defending champ Naomi Osaka gets tough draw, vows to take it ‘one match at a time’

Naomi Osaka arrives on court

The Pan Pacific Open makes its return this week after its coronavirus-enforced hiatus and Naomi Osaka admits it is “really weird” being the defending champion.

Osaka lifted the trophy back in 2019 as she became the first Japanese player to win the title in 24 years, but life was quite different back then as she was ranked No 4 in the world and won the Australian Open at the start of the year.

The four-time Grand Slam winner finds herself at No 48 in the WTA Rankings ahead of the tournament while she has hasn’t won a title since the 2021 Australian Open.

“It feels really weird to hear that I’m the defending champion because it was the last time I played in 2019,” she said.

“I would love to win it again, but I think just taking it one match at a time… and also just playing in front of a crowd in Tokyo again, because the Olympics was crowdless, so it will just be nice to see people.”

The former world No 1 is 2-8 in the last 10 matches with her last win coming at the Silicon Valley Classic in July. The last time she won back-to-back matches was at the Miami Open in April when she finished runner-up to Iga Swiatek.

Osaka is unseeded this year and she will open her title defence against Daria Saville from Australia on Tuesday and the winner of that clash will face either fifth seed Beatriz Haddad Maia or wildcard Yuki Naito in the second round.

Brazilian Haddad Maia won the Nottingham Open and Birmingham Classic in June and also finished runner-up to Simona Halep at the Canadian Open in August.

Fourth seed Veronika Kudermetova is the projected quarter-final opponent while top seed Paula Badosa, who faces Zheng Qinwen or Misaka Doi in the second round, is the likely semi-final rival.

Caroline Garcia, fresh from a run to the semi-final at the US Open, headlines the bottom half and the second seed faces Zhang Shuai or Mai Hontama in the second round with Karoline Pliskova also in the section.

Two-time Grand Slam winner and third seed Garbine Muguruza is also in the half along with Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina.

Eighth seed Rybakina returned to form at the Slovenia Open last week as she finished runner-up to Katerina Siniakova on Sunday.

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