Naomi Osaka‘s return to form will have plenty of followers on the women’s tour excited. Her struggles mental and physical have seen her fall to outside the top 70 but performances this week will give hope of a quick return to the top. It will be her toughest test so far against Belinda Bencic, an opponent she is currently 1-3 against.
Bencic has been going about her business quietly, easing through a nice draw with few struggles. She has lost an average of four games per match over the tournament but went one better against Daria Saville with a 6-1 6-2 victory. It continues her best run at Miami and should go a long way to helping her return to the top 20 very soon. “I’m really happy. I really thought it was going to be a complicated match,” Bencic said. “Daria, she plays very different. She stays far behind the baseline, so my plan was to attack for sure. I’m happy it’s going better against and I’m back on track.”
Meanwhile, Osaka solved her toughest test so far in emphatic style. She smashed 13 aces in a dominant 6-2 6-1 win against Danielle Collins, also aided by picking apart the American’s second serve throughout. “I’m glad I was able to get through quickly. I focused on trying to hit a lot of really good returns,” she said. “This is actually my first night match too, so I didn’t know what the conditions would be like.”
“I think my mentality was a very big part in my losses back then. Hopefully, it will be better, because I feel like I have kind of worked through it. So hopefully on Thursday, it will be more about tennis.” Osaka said about her three losses to Bencic, all of which came when she was the World No. 1. The four-time slam champion at her best is probably the leading hard court player in the world but keeping that level up in recent times has been a struggle. If she repeats her performance from the Collins match, it could be a rough time for Bencic against an opponent in the zone. The Swiss shouldn’t go away quietly though so how Osaka deals with scoreboard pressure for the first time this tournament will also be telling.
Prediction – Naomi Osaka in three sets