Naomi Osaka made a brilliant albeit “nervous” return to the scene of her greatest triumph, the U.S. Open in New York City. It was a nerve wracking affair for the defending champion who won the title last year over Serena Williams as she allowed her opponent to break her serve in the second set when Naomi was serving for the match at 6-5. More on that later because our Japanese Haitian star has the knack of letting her opponents off the hook when she should be stepping on their throat. Naomi started the match against Russian opponent A. Blinkova slowly and she was down 1-4 in the first set before she woke up and remembered that she was a vastly superior player than the upstart from Russia. After winning 4 games in a row Naomi finished the set by breaking Blinkova with a forehand winner.
In the second set Osaka kept allowing Blinkova to feel confident by giving her a lot of break chances. Of course despite having multiple break chances Blinkova could not break our champion until she was serving for the match at 6-5. That’s when inexplicably Naomi played a horrible serving game, practically giving the game to Blinkova and allowing her to tie the set and send it to a tie break. In the decisive tie break Naomi practically handed the set by committing numerous unforced errors mostly on the backhand down the line. She must have sent at least three of them in the net lackadaisically giving points away needlessly. As if on a habitual mental breakdown Naomi tends to allow her opponents to win a set before waking up and imposing herself. It must have been a frustrating moment for her team as it also was for us fans watching, or I should say trying to watch.
In a break with tradition and tennis etiquette ESPN chose to feature the match between Tsissipas and Rublev rather than show the Osaka match as you are supposed to do when the no. 1 player in the world is on stage. While Naomi was battling in a crucial moment in the match ESPN preferred to show us Tsissipas sitting during a change over. As Naomi Osaka, the no. 1 player in the world was battling in the third set we got to hear about another player cramping and losing to a lesser ranked player. No respect for Naomi Osaka or her fans from ESPN as they continued to show other matches rather than stay with the no. 1 player. In the deciding moment of the match between A. Riske, an upcoming American player and Muguruza ESPN showed two games up until Riske served out and won the match, but we did not get the same thing when Osaka was leading 5-2 we got to watch a split screen nightmare when ESPN grudgingly decided they had to at least show something in the Osaka-Blinkova hard fought match. Both matches were in a decisive tie break during the second set for Osaka-Blinkova and the third set of the Tsissipas affair and all we got was split screen Osaka vs. Blinkova while we got to suffer every point in the tie break featuring Tsissipas. The day before when A. Barty, no. 2 in the world was struggling against Diyas, another lower ranked player who took the first set from Barty, we got to watch the whole match with little interruption. Is it because Naomi Osaka is not white or American because had it been Serena playing ESPN would not have dared to disrespect her so. It was a shameful display by ESPN and we hope they read this column and set their programs straight. We want to watch the top players at their best, not wounded warriors cursing at the referees.
Back to important matters now. Naomi righted herself and finished Blinkova in the third set 6-2, even though she did face a couple of break points on her serve which she defended with gusto. After the match Naomi admitted to being nervous at the start which allowed her opponent to gain confidence. She was gracious as usual praising her opponent who fought hard. Blinkova played well but she was agitated and showed visible frustration when she could not break serve despite many chances. She failed to realize that champions, especially Naomi, will allow you to get close but will shut the door when it matters. Naomi played well at times overall but she needs to cut down on her mistakes if she wants to win the Open. Her no. 1 ranking is on the table because as a returning champ she must make the final round or lose her top spot. She must feel great pressure because with the no. 1 ranking you are treated like a queen and everyone is aiming for you; huge target on poor Naomi’s back. When I say poor I mean literally because this year Naomi has signed lucrative contracts to add to the ones she inked last year. Go Naomi, Go it’s your time to shine.