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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Monday, March 11, 2024

New mom Naomi Osaka knows baby steps are a precious process of growth.

In the aftermath of her 7-5, 6-4 BNP Paribas Open loss to Elise Mertens, Osaka assessed her progress and primary goal.

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Former world No. 1 Osaka topped 14th-seeded Liudmila Samsonova, 7-5, 6-3, in the second round for her biggest win, by ranking, since her comeback this season from maternity leave.

While Osaka was pleased by that win, she was disappointed she failed to push Mertens to a third set today.

At times, Osaka was her own worst enemy—she served just 38 percent and converted only three of nine break points—but she fought until the final ball and seemed to enjoy the battle.

Despite missing some key drives down the stretch, Osaka paused to toss her towels to fans on her walk off court.

A candid Osaka said while she's not nearly where she wants to be, she sees improvement in her game compared to the recent Abu Dhabi-Doha swing and believes she's moving in the right direction.

"I definitely feel like there's improvement," Osaka told the media in Indian Wells. "The match I played before this one, I guess I beat the highest-ranked person I've played so far, so I'm happy about that.

"But I'm just trying not to be too hard on myself right now, but I feel like in some ways I improved a lot from Doha. I think I fought a lot harder or I tried to fight a lot harder and find solutions to problems that were in front of me. But clearly it didn't work out too well, so I hope that the more matches I play, the more I can find solutions."

Indeed, some of Osaka's challenges—refining the return, raising her first-serve percentage at crunch time and firing the finishing shots with more accuracy—should all start to come with more match play.

In fact, Osaka was playing today to score three complete match wins in a row for the first time this season. Osaka, who spent time taking baby daughter Shai on a hike and to the zoo, will carry a 5-5 record into the Miami Open where she was 2022 runner-up.

The 2018 Indian Wells champion believes she's taking small steps toward major goals.

The four-time Grand Slam champion says winning more majors is why she returned to tennis.

"Honestly, I'm not really chasing the No. 1 spot right now," Osaka said. "Like, that's such a, if I could get there in, like, three years or, I don't even know what's going to happen in that time, but that was never really the reason I came back.

"I wanted to win more slams. That's why I came back. But I think I determine success right now just by the effort that I put in, and I feel like today I don't think I played well at all, but I tried every point."

On the comeback road, effort is the fuel that can take Osaka where she wants to go.

"I think, like, before I was pregnant, there were a couple of matches that I didn't try as hard as I tried today, and I feel like I can walk off the court knowing that," Osaka said. "Although I'm sad about the loss, I know that I tried every possible way to get back in the match. I guess that's how I determine success right now."

Photo credit: Matthew Calvis