Naomi Osaka highlights No.1 goal & makes surprise Coco Gauff revelation after IW loss

Osaka got candid about her goals after losing to Elise Mertens in the Indian Wells third round.

by Dzevad Mesic
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Naomi Osaka highlights No.1 goal & makes surprise Coco Gauff revelation after IW loss
© Getty Images Sport - Clive Brunskill

Naomi Osaka has made it perfectly clear that her tennis return is driven by the determination to win more Grand Slams but also adds that for now she considers success just competing well and doing her absolute best whenever she is playing. 

When Osaka prematurely ended her 2022 season in September of that year, there were concerns about where the Japanese's career was going considering that she wasn't playing much at the time and that she was struggling with her motivation. After Osaka announced her pregnancy in 2023 January and it became clear that she would also not play any tournament last year, many wondered how that would impact the Japanese's mindset. 

But being away from tennis for an extended period actually did wonders for four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka, who regained her motivation and passion for the game during her 16-month break. 

While Osaka has major post-pregnancy goals, she is just 5-5 since returning and hasn't gone past the quarterfinal stage. On Monday, Osaka - now ranked at No. 287 in the world - lost to Elise Mertens 5-7 4-6 in the Indian Wells third round. 

Later in her press conference, Osaka was asked what would be a definition of success for her now. 

"Honestly, I'm not really chasing the No. 1 spot right now. Like, that's such a, if I could get there in, like, three years or, I don't even know what's going to happen in that time, but that was never really the reason I came back," Osaka said.

"I wanted to win more slams. That's why I came back. But I think I determine success right now just by the effort that I put in, and I feel like today I don't think I played well at all, but I tried every point...  I can walk off the court knowing that, although I'm sad about the loss, I know that I tried every possible way to get back in the match. I guess that's how I determine success right now."

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka© Getty Images Sport - Clive Brunskill
 

Osaka on chasing Grand Slams at this stage of her career

When Osaka became a Grand Slam champion at the 2018 US Open, she was just 20. In the next three and a half years, Osaka won three more Grand Slams - her fourth Slam win at the 2021 Australian Open came just three months after her 23rd birthday. 

Osaka, now 26 years old, admits that there is a different feeling to chasing Grand Slams now compared to earlier in her career.

"I feel like it is completely different, like, because you know that you've done it, so you're desperately trying to do it again. I think when I was younger and I haven't, like, achieved, I guess, anything, it was always, like, a wonder or a possibility, and I wasn't too hard on myself, because I was always just reaching the third round in slams anyways (smiling)," Osaka explained.

"Yeah, it is quite different from now, because I feel like I should be able to get to that level. Obviously -- well, not obviously, but I feel like I've done it once before, so I should be able to do it again."

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka© Getty Images Sport - Darrian Traynor
 

Osaka 'did not know' she could face Coco Gauff 

Had Osaka defeated Mertens and clinched three consecutive wins for the first time since starting her post-pregnancy comeback, she would have set up an Indian Wells round-of-16 meeting against 2023 US Open champion Gauff. 

After third-seeded Gauff defeated Lucia Bronzetti earlier on Monday, many were rooting for Osaka to get the job done and clinch a Gauff meeting. But Osaka didn't manage to beat Mertens, and after losing to the Belgian, she provided a bit surprising answer when asked if knowing she could face Gauff next impacted her. 

"Well, I didn't know that, so no," Osaka said.

"Yeah. Wow, that's a surprise. It was honestly, though, you know how, like, the bottom half, the top half, everyone plays. I was, like, oh, it would be cool to play Sabalenka, but I don't ever look at the draw.  So no, I wasn't paying attention. I was just trying to focus on the match today."

Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff
Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff© Getty Images Sport - Carmen Mandato
 

Despite Osaka's Indian Wells run finishing a bit earlier than she would have loved, it was still a good and promising tournament for the Japanese. 

Now, the former world No. 1 will turn her focus on the upcoming WTA 1000 tournament in Miami, which starts on March 19th. In 2022, the Japanese made her first Miami final - in which she was bounced in straight sets by Iga Swiatek. 

Osaka hasn't made any finals since and it will be interesting to see how she does in her Miami return this year.

Naomi Osaka Coco Gauff Elise Mertens
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