Naomi Osaka's deeply honest admission after losing in first match vs top-10 in 2024

In the Rome round-of-16, Osaka lost to world No. 7 Zheng Qinwen in what was her first match versus a top-10 player in nearly two years.

by Dzevad Mesic
Naomi Osaka's deeply honest admission after losing in first match vs top-10 in 2024
© Getty Images Sport - Dan Istitene

Naomi Osaka admits knowing she was about to face a top-10 player for the first time this season left her feeling "something drastically different was going to happen" but now remains optimistic that the match versus Zheng Qinwen will help her going forward.

On Monday, former world No. 1 Osaka met a top-10 player for the first time since launching her post-pregnancy comeback at the start of this season. Playing against world No. 7 and 2024 Australian Open runner-up Zheng, Osaka made a very slow start before the Chinese went on to complete a routine 6-2 6-4 win in the Rome round-of-16.

Before meeting Zheng, the last time Osaka faced off against a top-10 player came in 2022 August when she played Coco Gauff in San Jose. 

Just two days before meeting Zheng, Osaka ousted world No. 11 Daria Kasatkina 6-3 6-3. On paper, the difference between the seventh and 11th position isn't something astonishingly big. But just knowing that it was her first meeting versus a top-10 player in nearly two years had a mental impact on Osaka. 

"Yeah, I think it's been a while since I played a top-10 player. I don't know. I just felt like something drastically different is going to happen. I wasn't as experienced," Osaka said.

"I'm pretty I guess happy that I was able to play this match because I will learn a lot from it. I'll learn that the level's not that different. It's kind of just more key moments I would say, staying mentally very resilient in myself and my abilities.

"I think it just got to a point that I wasn't really too confident in myself. I think you could kind of see that. Then I picked it back up, of course, yeah."

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka © Getty Images Sport - Mike Hewitt

Osaka on her French Open plan now

In Rome, Osaka played four matches and was able to clinch three wins - two of those wins came against top-20 players, Kasatkina and Marta Kostyuk. Now leading up to the French Open, Osaka has played three tournaments and has a 4-3 record on clay. 

After beating Kasatkina and Kostyuk in straight sets for her first two top-20 wins on clay, Osaka feels good about her level but still plans to return to the practice court and do a good training block before the French Open. 

"Yeah, I think I'm probably going to do a really solid training block again. That's been working out for me, so hopefully it works out even more.

"After that I'll go to Paris and see Shai, so I'm really happy about that."

Since returning, Osaka has underlined many times that her goal is to be winning titles. Although Osaka didn't win Rome, she still managed to beat a top-20 player for the first time on clay and she definitely showed some promising signs before exiting the tournament.

When asked about her week and clinching two top-20 wins, Osaka was asked if she was accepting this as a great result. 

"Yeah, that's a really good question for me because I'm still trying to figure it out (smiling)," Osaka said.

It's really tough. Also I feel very grateful at the same time. A little bit of a mix of emotions. I think to be in this position that I am right now, and to have been able to beat Kasatkina in straight sets is something that I'm really happy about. But currently I'm talking to you because I lost a match.

"I don't know. I have to process things a little bit differently but also accept the last time I played quarters in Rome, I didn't play seeded players probably. I don't remember too well. I don't think I did."

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka © Getty Images Sport - Dan Istitene

Osaka happy with the progress she has been making since the start of the clay season

After losing to Marta Trevisan in the Rouen first round in her opening match on clay this season, Osaka went to the Madrid Open where she defeated Greetje Minnen before losing to Liudmila Samsonova. In Rome, Osaka had her best tournament of the clay season and definitely found some form and momentum going into the French Open.

In her presser after the Zheng loss, Osaka said she was "very happy" with the progress made from Madrid to Rome and also provided an insight into how she feels about her shots. 

"But if I were to take away one thing that I'm confident in myself, hmm, I think from all the matches that I've played here I'm trying to analyze, I think I've hit a couple really good backhands when I'm in the backhand cross-court. I'm very confident and happy about that," Osaka explained.

"But I think when I have to hit forehand, sometimes I second-guess myself. I did that today a lot. I think just knowing that I have to hit through the ball is something that I'm probably going to work on when I get to Mallorca."

Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka © Getty Images Sport - Dan Istitene

When Osaka returns to the French Open, she will be playing at Roland Garros for the first time since 2022.

Naomi Osaka