Naomi Osaka admitted she looked up to Novak Djokovic's return tactics after ending her three-match losing streak in Doha.
On Monday, four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka started her Doha campaign with a very notable win as she beat former world No. 4 Caroline Garcia 7-5 6-4. Going into the match against Garcia, Osaka was riding a three-match losing streak and one of those three losses came against the Frenchwoman at the Australian Open.
When Osaka and Garcia met at the Australian Open, the Japanese didn't have a single break point in a 4-6 6-7 (2) loss. This time, Osaka was jumping in with both feet on her return as her goal was to try to be more aggressive and make it more difficult for Garcia in the Frenchwoman's service games.
"I did change my return -- I don't want to say 'style,' but I guess form. I don't know how to describe it. 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 (smiling)?" Osaka said.
"Definitely. I had a conversation with Wim, and it was just kind of frustrating knowing that my serve is, like, one of the best serves, dare I say, in the world, but I just really wanted to work on the things that I know should be a lot better and the return was one of them.
"So we were talking about it a lot in the offseason, and I guess, leaving Melbourne, definitely needed to improve it."
Osaka 'proud' of her performance against Garcia
After losing to Garcia in the Australian Open first round, Osaka very directly admitted that she was frustrated and upset with her loss. Last week, Osaka admitted that her confidence was hit after losing to Danielle Collins in the Abu Dhabi first round for her third consecutive loss.
After losing to Collins, Osaka clearly wasn't in the best place and drawing Garcia in the Doha first round was absolutely not the ideal scenario for the former world No. 1. But Osaka delivered a big performance to beat Garcia and end her losing streak in a very impressive way.
Against Garcia, Osaka didn't make the most promising start as she was 3-5 down after the opening eight games. But then, Osaka won the next four games to overturn the deficit and steal the opener from Garcia. In the second set, Osaka sealed a two-set after claiming a break in the 10th game - a game in which Garcia was serving to stay in the match.
This time, Osaka sounded way happier and satisfied in her post-match press conference.
"I think I'm just proud that I didn't give up on any single point and that I was able to, I guess, not have multiple match points (smiling)," Osaka said after the match.
After beating Tamara Korpatsch in the Brisbane first round, Osaka was up by a set against Karolina Pliskova before losing in three sets to the Czech. Then, Osaka lost to Garcia and Collins. After ending her three-match losing streak in Doha, Osaka gave a shout-out to her team but also underlined she wants more wins this week.
"I mean, I feel like I definitely made a big step forward, but also my team has kind of seen the ups and downs, and so far this year it feels a little bit more like downs," Osaka said.
"I'm just really kind of glad we stuck it through and not seeing this one victory as, like, the highlight of the year. I definitely want to keep it going. It was more like a 'We're-in-it-together' type of thing."
Who is Osaka's next opponent?
In the Doha second round, Osaka will be clashing against former world No. 14 Petra Martic, who defeated Arantxa Rus in her opener in Qatar.
When Osaka, 26, and 33-year-old Martic meet in Doha, it will be just their second meeting and the first time that they are going up against each other in a decade. In 2014 - when Osaka was just a teenager and making her first steps on the Tour - she managed to edge out Martic 6-7 (4) 6-4 6-1 in the San Jose qualifying.
Following a big win over Garcia, there is no doubt that Osaka's confidence levels have improved. With that being said, Osaka will certainly enter the Martic match feeling well about her chances and motivated to claim back-to-back wins for the first time in her post-pregnancy comeback.
Since returning to tennis at the start of the 2024 season, Osaka has reiterated several times her hope to make great results in the biggest events. Since Doha is a WTA 1000 tournament, Osaka making a deep run in Qatar would certainly mean a lot to the Japanese and her hopes of returning to her old form.