SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) – Twelve months on from her debut appearance at the WTA Finals, two-time grand slam winner Naomi Osaka is hoping to put the lessons learned into practice as she looks for an improved performance in the end-of-season tournament.
Osaka made her breakthrough in 2018 with her win over Serena Williams in the final of the U.S. Open, a victory that helped secure a place at her first tour championships final last year.
But three defeats saw the then 21-year-old exit the competition at the end of the group phase as Elina Svitolina went on to win the title in Singapore.
The Japanese right-hander, however, bounced back in style, winning the Australian Open in January before finishing the season ranked third in the world after claiming victories at the China Open and the Pan Pacific Open in Japan.
“I think it’s a really good way to end the year and I hope that I play well compared to last year,” she said.
“Last year the end of the year was just so hectic for me, and I didn’t really remember anything. Honestly, by the time I got here, I was just so tired.”
Osaka added: “I definitely think last year helped me in the way that I kind of know the format more. Before last year, I haven’t played round-robin since I was, like, eight or 10.”
Osaka begins her challenge at the $14 million event against Petra Kvitova after being drawn against the Czech as well as world No.1 Ashleigh Barty and Belinda Bencic in the Red Group.
Players face off against one another in the round-robin format, with the top two in each group progressing to Saturday’s semi-finals.
“I think it should be fun,” she said of Sunday’s match against Kvitova, who she defeated in the final of the Australian Open.
“I think she’s one of the players, few players, that sort of treat you very nicely after the match no matter if she wins or loses. She always gives you a smile.
Osaka comes into the event off the back of a successful run during the WTA’s Asian swing.
Maintaining her on-court discipline has been key, she said.
“I tried to be as focussed as I could every point, which for me is something very difficult to do because my mind tends to wander a lot. I think you can see it sometimes,” she said.
“So just continuing that, trying to be as focussed as I can. I think I don’t have much of a choice here because I’m playing against the best players.”
(Editing by Alison Williams)