Dubai: Naomi Osaka, the new World No. 1 of women’s tennis, is not concerned about her game despite falling to a shock straight sets defeat to Kristina Mladenovic at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships late on Tuesday.
Playing in her first tournament after clinching her second Grand Slam at the Australian Open last month, Osaka said there was no reason yet to press the panic button.
“The Australian Open was not even a month ago. This was just one match. I feel like even if I don’t win any matches for the rest of the year, I wouldn’t say I’m concerned,” Osaka told media after her 3-6, 3-6 loss to World No. 67 Kristina Mladenovic late on Tuesday.
“I think I’m pretty young. I still feel like I have a lot to learn. For me, that’s sort of my biggest thing after this match. I think I play well after I lose a sort-of-bad match. I’m just looking forward to the next tournament,” the 21-year-old Japanese said.
Making her third appearance in Dubai, Osaka was simply blown off by her 25-year-old French opponent who went on to break the World Number 1’s serve seven times — the first time this has happened to the Japanese in a straight sets match.
Osaka’s previous best in Dubai was a quarter-final last year where she lost to eventual champion Elina Svitolina.
Earlier this month, Osaka announced she was splitting with coach Alexander (Sascha) Bajin, who had overseen her rise from No. 72, this time last season, to the pinnacle of the rankings.
Osaka admitted she was struggling to come to terms with that separation and the circumstances were affecting her.
“For now, it’s like the biggest tennis news, I guess. See, it’s a little bit hard because I feel like people are staring at me, and not like in a good way. I mean, I couldn’t [deal with the hype of the news],” she shrugged.
“I’m pretty sure, like, you guys — no offence to you guys — but I’m pretty sure as time goes on you guys will stop talking about it,” she pleaded as she tried to control her tears.
She counted Tuesday’s loss as part of her learning curve.
“I don’t think I necessarily understand what position I’m in because last year I wasn’t even anywhere close to this ranking. People didn’t pay attention to me. That’s something that I’m comfortable with. I don’t know why I’m crying, I don’t know why this is happening,” Osaka said as the tears continued to flow.
“We play tennis for a living. If I wake up and I’m happy to go play, I’m happy to do what I’m living for, I feel like I’ve been training for a really long time and to just to be in this position, I should be really thrilled,” she said.
“For sure, there’s no one who really thinks losing is fun. I’ve always been taught that when you lose, you learn more than when you win. I try to take that as a really important advice because I think it is true. I think that today I learnt more than she did,” Osaka added.