Naomi Osaka respects Elina Svitolina but makes one very interesting comment in Miami

Osaka and Svitolina set to meet in the Miami Open second round.

by Dzevad Mesic
Naomi Osaka respects Elina Svitolina but makes one very interesting comment in Miami
© Getty Images Sport - Megan Briggs

Naomi Osaka highlighted she has a pretty high opinion of Elina Svitolina's game but added that she "would not put the rivalry label" on their matchup as the Japanese revealed she used to only do that when it came to her matches against Ashleigh Barty

On Wednesday, former world No. 1 Osaka kicked off her Miami Open run with a routine 6-3 6-4 win over Elisabetta Cocciaretto. As a reward for her great performance against Cocciaretto, the Japanese four-time Grand Slam champion will now get to play No. 15 seed Svitolina next, who had a first-round bye at the tournament. 

While Osaka, 26, and 29-year-old Svitolina have been one of the best players on the Tour over the last six or seven years, they haven't played against each other since meeting at the Australian Open in 2019 January. Previously, Osaka and Svitolina met six times between 2014 and 2019. Their head-to-head is as even as it gets since each has three wins and three losses in their six meetings.

The last time that Osaka and Svitolina met, the Japanese won their quarterfinal match 6-4 6-1 en route to sealing her first Australian Open title. 

"I would say a lot has happened since that match," Osaka said. 

"I think, for me, when I think of Svitolina, I think of her as a fighter. I feel like she's the type of person that would never give up on a single ball. Obviously that's why she is where she is right now. I also feel like it's really incredible for her to have had a kid and already doing so well and winning so many matches.

"But I don't know. When I think of her, I just think of her as, like, a really amazing tennis player. I don't put a rival label on it. I honestly don't put that label on anyone except Barty. So hopefully she comes back too and she's inspired. But yeah..."

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka© Getty Images Sport - Al Bello

Osaka followed Svitolina's Wimbledon run 

After being out of action for 13 months, former world No. 5 Svitolina launched her post-pregnancy return last April. Just three months after returning to tennis, the 29-year-old Ukrainian made her first Wimbledon semifinal and her impressive run also included a shock quarterfinal win over world No. 1 Iga Swiatek. 

While Svitolina was having a strong run at The Championships and being one of the best storylines of the 2023 Wimbledon, Osaka was at home and thinking of her own post-pregnancy comeback in 2024. Ahead of the battle of the moms in Miami, the 27-year-old Japanese acknowledged that the Ukrainian's Wimbledon run was inspiring and that she would love to do something similar this year.

"Yeah, definitely. I remember watching her playing Wimbledon while I was pregnant, and I remember thinking that I want to be there too one day," Osaka said.

"I think it's, I don't know, she's always just been a really great player, so it's not surprising to me she's back in the top 20. It's more like that's where she belongs."

Elina Svitolina
Elina Svitolina© Getty Images Sport - Patrick Smith

Osaka on the mental challenge she is facing now 

Shortly after turning 23, Osaka already had four Grand Slams in her pocket and spent a notable time at the world No. 1 spot. But it has been more than three years since the Japanese lifted a title last time. 

While Osaka hasn't won titles at any level since lifting her fourth Slam at the 2021 Australian Open, her post-pregnancy goals are the highest possible as the 26-year-old has made it perfectly clear that she is chasing Grand Slams again. 

Related to that, the former world No. 1 was asked whether it's tougher to do something the first time or to later repeat it. 

"Honestly probably trying to do it the first time. I think you, I guess, don't know you're able to achieve it yet, and then when you finally do, it's kind of like a surprise and also a relief all in one," Osaka said.

"I guess when you're aware that you have already achieved something, you have this inner confidence in yourself. While it is a little bit, I guess, negative to think, like, if you have already achieved something, why is it so difficult to do it again, I do feel like it's, I don't know, every day is a new day, and there are so many new faces on the tour that I see, like, doing so amazing, and it's incredibly inspiring.

"So I'm glad that I have achieved a couple things in my career, and I hope that I'm able to do it again."

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka© Getty Images Sport - Al Bello

Without any doubt, beating players like Svitolina would mean a lot to Osaka and could do wonders for her confidence and where she is trying to get since the Japanese would need to start beating top players regularly in order to achieve her major goals for the future. 

Naomi Osaka Elina Svitolina Miami Open