WATCH: Osaka wasted little time avenging four prior defeats to Kerber, racing into the third round in straight sets.

A year ago, winning was starting to feel old hat for Naomi Osaka, who rode a 23-match streak into the Miami Open quarterfinals after capturing the last two major tournaments.

The shy smile Osaka let out after dismissing fellow former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber, 6-2, 6-3, has been a little harder to come by these days, but a performance like Thursday’s may indicate more wins are on their way.

Osaka arrived at the Hard Rock Stadium in the wake of what could only be described as a career low: heckled by an obnoxious fan, the four-time major champion disintegrated into a 6-0, 6-4 exit at the BNP Paribas Open—one that left a teary Osaka pleading for kindness on-court after the match.

Spurred on by elder sister Mari, Osaka made the brave decision to seek therapy, making the announcement after her first-round victory on Wednesday.

“It only took, like, a year after French Open,” the 24-year-old joked, referencing the Roland Garros meltdown that precipitated this year-long emotional sojourn.

“I've been trying a lot of different things because I tend to internalize things, and I also want to do everything by myself,” Osaka explained, adding coach Wim Fissette co-signed the idea.

“He was like, ‘You hire a coach for tennis, for fitness. The mind is such a big thing. If you can, like, get a professional to help you out .5 percent, that alone is worth it.’”


Therapy is typically a long and messy process, requiring hours of introspection to uncover unpleasant—and sometimes even traumatic—memories. While Osaka should by no means consider herself “cured,” just taking the first step seems to have taken a tremendous weight off her shoulders.

Suddenly, winning isn't an insurmountable feat and instead something Osaka can effortlessly do to prove critics wrong.

"I think Caroline Wozniacki was commentating, and they were like, 'Oh, who do you think is going to make it out of this section?'" Osaka explained of a Tennis Channel broadcast she saw earlier this week. "She's, like, 'I think Kerber and Fernandez are going to play each other.' I was, like, 'Oh, me and Muchova aren't right here.' So I was kind of thinking about it in my head a lot during when I was playing just now.

"I don't really say I had like a vendetta, but I was like, 'Hmm, I know I was kind of underachieving these last couple of months, but I still feel like I'm a pretty good player.' Because Wozniacki said it kind of confidently that Kerber was going to be going through. I don't know. But anyways, yeah, that's my story."

Against Kerber, a player who has beaten her in four of their five previous matches, she was clear-eyed and sharply focused, striking 32 winners and six aces, winning just under 90% of points played on her first serve to advance in 60 minutes flat.

Combined with her first-round win over Astra Sharma, Osaka has lost 12 games in two matches, and heads into a Round of 32-clash with a similarly resurgent Karolina Muchova looking in many ways like the Naomi of old.

“She’s the first, like, high-seeded player I’ve beaten this year,” Osaka said on court, audibly reacting to the microphone’s feedback. “I went into the match just wanting to play my game. I still have the memories of all the matches she’s beaten me before, so I just wanted to play as well as I could and it worked out in the end!”

Osaka ends the statement with an even bigger smile than when she won the match, perhaps to signal to her increased comfort with an environment that, a year ago, was just beginning to overwhelm her.

The more comfortable Osaka gets, the more dangerous she’ll become and, especially in the wake of current world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty’s retirement, any self-improvement she makes could yield major dividends—and make her appreciate winning that much more.