Naomi Osaka, at her prime, was probably already a candidate for the tennis hall of fame. Winning her 4th grand slam in January last year, by 23 Osaka was already halfway to catching Suzanne Lenglen’s 8 majors. Osaka was also a third of the way to catching Billie Jean King’s 12. However, in a blink of an eye, Iga Swiatek has snuck up on Osaka’s tally. However, in 2023, Swiatek will enter as the defending champion at two grand slams. No longer the underdog, Iga will walk into every major next year with a bullseye on her back.
Nevertheless, Osaka at one point was the far-and-away best hard court player in the world. However, Osaka has been unable to make a dent at the majority of the 9 Masters events. In all fairness however, clay has never been a strength for Osaka. Regardless, that leaves 5 other Masters events where Osaka has not made the final. Early ion the season, it did seem like Osaka was back to her winning ways, being the first woman to enter the final of the Miami Open. However, her form after this has taken yet another nosedive.
Osaka’s results at Masters on hard courts this year? A second round loss in Indian Wells, a first round loss in Cincinstti and another first round loss in Toronto. Iga’s results this year at Masters? Completing the sunshine double at Indian Wells and Miami, as well as 2 Masters wins in Rome and Doha. The gulf in level over the past season between Iga and the field has been almost laughable at times.
While it is true that Osaka has never really dominated at Masters events (instead building her ranking based off grand slams, which offer 2000 points instead of thye 1000 for Masters)- Osaka has had a sub-par season at slam level as well. In Austrealia, she lost in 3 to Anismova. Then she had the unfortunate luck of drawing Danielle Collins in round at the US Open. Whatever way these results can be interpreted, Osaka has managed to go slamless in 2022. The good news is that Osaka is like the younger, female incarnation of Stan Wawrinka. Osaka has this propensity to seemingly peak at grand slams. It is a highly uncommon trait- but one which will work in Osaka’s favour the most if she is to go into 2023 with a plan to win a grand slam. On her day, Osaka is one of the most unplayable tennis players on tour.
However, does Naomi Osaka have what it takes to dethone Iga at majors (on hard courts) in 2023?