Naomi Osaka gets real on why Novak Djokovic is better pick to speak about Saudi issue

Osaka asked if she would be willing to hold dialogues about sports in Saudi Arabia.

by Dzevad Mesic
Naomi Osaka gets real on why Novak Djokovic is better pick to speak about Saudi issue
© Getty Images Sport - Matthew Stockman

Naomi Osaka pretty honestly said she is probably not the best person to speak too much about the tennis in Saudi Arabia issue as the Japanese believes Novak Djokovic is the perfect man for that role. 

In late February, the ATP signed a five-year "strategic partnership" with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), which was another pretty clear sign that more tennis will be coming to the Kingdom in the next couple of years. While Saudi Arabia hasn't yet officially inked a deal with the WTA, it is being heavily rumored that it's just a matter of time before the Saudis get multi-year rights to host the WTA Finals, starting this year.

In Indian Wells, a reporter had an interesting question for Osaka as he mentioned that Lewis Hamilton - the F1 star the Japanese admires - had some strong views about sports in Saudi Arabia in the past. When making that point, a reported wanted to know whether Osaka would be interested in speaking with Hamilton regarding the sports in Saudi Arabia issue. 

But Osaka, who is no stranger to receiving criticism and backlash after speaking out on certain topics in the past, would rather skip that one.

“I feel like if there was dialogue between sports honestly it would probably be someone like Novak that would kind of open the door first. I don't know why but I picture him like starting the conversation like that," Osaka said.

"I don't really have the recent information but yeah it is good to know you think I am friends with Lewis Hamilton."

Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic
Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic© Getty Images Sport - Michael Reaves

Osaka on making a winning return in Indian Wells 

On Thursday, Osaka sealed a 6-3 6-1 over former world No. 5 Sara Errani in the Indian Wells first round. Errani, the 2012 French Open runner-up, is now ranked at No. 100 in the world and she made the Indian Wells main draw only after winning two qualifying matches. 

Early in the match, Osaka was twice down by a break in the first set as 36-year-old Errani had a 3-2 lead and was serving before the Japanese won 10 of the next 11 games to complete a two-set win in style. 

"Definitely very nerve-wracking. Overall, just really excited to be back playing tennis here... I guess excited," Osaka said on Tennis Channel after the matches.

"She was very different from my opponents that I played before, so bit of an adjustment."

Following her win over Errani, Osaka improved to 4-4 in her post-pregnancy comeback. Although a 4-4 record isn't anything impressive, it should be noted that two of those losses came against former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, while one loss also came against 2022 WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia. 

Ahead of her Indian Wells second-round meeting against world No. 15 Liudmila Samsonova, Osaka underlined she is aiming for great things but also acknowledged she must keep her expectations realistic early in her comeback. 

“I have been fortunate enough to play against really good players and I think I’ve played really good matches against them,” Osaka said on Tennis Channel following her opening win in Indian Wells. 

“A part of me is really hard on myself for not winning those matches but another part is telling myself to give some grace. It takes time, I can’t immediately beat the best players in the world.

“I have to learn and I have to play a lot more matches. I think right now I’m in pretty good shape but where I want to be is much higher."

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka© Getty Images Sport - Clive Brunskill

Osaka on having her baby with her in Indian Wells

For the first time since welcoming her Shai in July, Osaka is being accompanied by her daughter at a tournament. Following her first-round win in Indian Wells, Osaka explained how it feels to have Shai with her in Indian Wells. 

"It is exciting. Honestly, probably the happiest moments of my day are just to come back and see her having fun. I feel like I kind of clock out in a way when I get home because immediately I'm not an athlete, I'm like her mom," Osaka explained. 

Now that 26-year-old Osaka is a mother, she is determined more than ever to make the most out of her time on the court and make her daughter proud. 

"It makes me feel like every minute is very important I have to make the most of the time I do have and just value the seconds more," Osaka said. 

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka© Getty Images Sport - Matthew Stockman

After ousting Errani, there is no doubt that beating Samsonova and clinching her first top-15 win since returning would be a massive thing for Osaka and her confidence.

Naomi Osaka Novak Djokovic