Former World No. 1 Naomi Osaka shocked the world when she withdrew from the 2nd round of the 2021 French Open revealing she was suffering from mental health issues and found it difficult to cope with the pressure on the court and off the court as well with her media interactions and other commitments.
As she now eyes a full return to the Tour as she played only 8 matches after her French Open exit, former Grand Slam champion pair of Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver, who won a total of 79 titles together including 21 Grand Slams and a Calendar Slam in 1984, discussed how things could go for Osaka in the 2022 season as her rank is now out of the Top-10.
“Naomi dominated the majors, particularly the hardcourts, but never the little tournaments. Kind of like Serena. I think to leave your mark on the game, you need to dominate all the events, a la Barty, a la Djokovic. They concentrate on majors, but you can’t just use the other tournaments as warmups.
“The less you play, the more the pressure builds up and the less feel you have for the game itself. You need to put in the reps. If she can do that, she has the game to blow anybody off the court because she’s quick, moves well and is strong on both wings. And she’s got the massive serve as well. She just needs to play more matches,” said Martina in the interview with WTA along with Pam.
“Naomi Osaka can return to dominance only on hardcourt” says Pam Shriver
Both Pam and Martina shared a similar viewpoint on Naomi’s return and given the Japanese player’s struggle on surfaces other than hardcourts, both the legends think it will be a long journey before the 24-year old can return to the summit of the WTA singles rankings.
“First off, if she returns to dominance, it will still be only on a hardcourt. Which begs the question: Can you be a dominant player on one surface? Look at the greats of all time, Navratilova, Graf, Serena, Roger, Novak – it’s been a multi-surface dominance. The other big question: Can she return to her best physical and emotional condition? If she can, yes, she can be the dominant hardcourt player.
“I think missing Wimbledon last year, and because it was cancelled in 2020 when Osaka returns to a grass court it will be three years since she played a match on a grass court. Three years away from your most insecure surface is … forever. The grass is going to be a tough go. Clay is slightly less mysterious for her, but a challenge for sure,” said Shriver speaking about Osaka.
With Naomi set to defend her 2021 Australian Open title in the Slam in 2022, it will be interesting to see how she goes about her title defence.