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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Thursday March 24, 2022

 
Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka took an underdog mentality into her second-round match against Angelique Kerber, and it paid off.

Photo Source: Getty

Naomi Osaka enters this week ranked No.77, but the four-time Grand Slam champion doesn’t take kindly to being underestimated. So when she overheard former World No.1 and Tennis Channel analyst Caroline Wozniacki casually predicting that she wouldn’t make the third round in Miami, Osaka made sure she used that as fuel.

Tennis Express

Ranking be damned, Osaka played flawlessly on Thursday in her 6-2, 6-3, takedown of three-time Slam champion Angelique Kerber in a highly touted battle of multi-time Grand Slam champions. She cracked 33 winners against 13 unforced errors, and dropped just three first-serve points, saving the only two break points she faced.

The victory sets up a third-round clash with Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic - another player that Wozniacki didn’t pick for the third round.

“Weirdly enough, I was watching Tennis Channel the other day, right?” Osaka explained during her post-match press conference. “I don't know what night or whatever, but they had the draw up. …. I think Caroline Wozniacki was commentating, and they were like, ‘Oh, who do you think is going to make it out of this section?’

"She's, like, ‘I think Kerber and Fernandez are going to play each other.’ … So I was kind of thinking about it in my head a lot during when I was playing just now.

“I don't know if that was the reason the score was why it was today. 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’ – Wozniacki said it kind of confidently that Kerber was going to be going through.”

Players don’t typically like to hear what others are saying about them on television or in the media, but in this case it provided some welcome motivation for Osaka. Don’t let the ranking fool you, however. Osaka is off to an impressive 8-2 start in 2022, and she doesn’t seem to be very far from her best form.


Backhand Coming Along As Well

Osaka says she has improved her backhand of late, as well, and told reporters that she had an epiphany after her loss to Amanda Anisimova at this year’s Australian Open.

“I always thought my backhand could be a weapon, but I always play a bit safe on it,” sh explained. “I always try to go crosscourt and I never try to do too much, unlike on my forehand, I feel like there are endless possibilities.

“I think after I played Amanda and I saw how she was going down the line and crosscourt and she was basically like attacking from that side, as well, I thought I wanted to be like that too, so I have been practicing being more comfortable going down the line on my backhand and not letting my backhand be too predictable. So I think it's working out quite well.”

 

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