World No.2 Naomi Osaka's 23-match winning streak came to an end on Wednesday, after No.25 Maria Sakkari powered through to a 6-0, 6-4 win in the Miami Open quarterfinals. The loss was Osaka's first since February 2020 and her first on a hard court since losing to Coco Gauff in the third round of the 2020 Australian Open.
"I feel a bit similar to when I lost to Coco in Australia, but I think in this match it's different," Osaka said after the loss. "I feel I played worse here possibly, but I fought more.
"So I think I am improving in that way, because I feel like even if you're not playing great you should still find ways to win. I'm trying to find ways to do that.
"Hopefully I don't lose like this a couple more times, but I think the more times that stuff like this happens, the more I'll learn from it."
Longest Winning Streaks— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) March 29, 2021
35: V. Williams, 2000
34: S. Williams, 2013
32: Henin, 2007-08
26: Azarenka, 2012
25: S. Williams, 2013-14
24: S. Williams, 2015
24: V. Williams, 2001-02
24: Henin, 2005
>>23: Osaka, 2020 Cincinnati to current https://t.co/nRKWIxJWyW
Despite the loss, Osaka leaves Miami having posted her best result at what is effectively her home tournament. Osaka honed her game on the public courts in Florida, but she had yet to progress past the third round in her previous appearances at the Miami Open.
Still, it was a rare quarterfinal loss for Osaka. Since the start of 2018, Osaka is now 15-5 in quarterfinals. Her loss to Sakkari snapped a streak of seven consecutive quarterfinal victories.
"I feel like everyone's either used to me winning a tournament or losing quite early," Osaka said. "So getting to the quarterfinals, I'm not sure how many times I have done this result.
"But if I look at it at a whole, I'm happy with how I did. I feel like even though I wasn't feeling that comfortable on this surface, I managed to get quite far, even though I only played two matches."
After her phenomenal string of wins on hardcourts, Osaka now looks ahead to her first clay season since 2019. That year, Osaka enjoyed the best clay season of her career, making the semifinals in Stuttgart, quarterfinals in Madrid and quarterfinals in Rome. Playing in her first Slam as World No.1, Osaka bowed out of the French Open in the third round to Katerina Siniakova.
This time, Osaka will have the expertise of coach Wim Fissette and fitness trainer Yutaka Nakamura in her corner. Fissette was in the coach's box when Simona Halep made her first Roland Garros final in 2017, while Nakamura has the experience of transforming Maria Sharapova's strength and movement to become a clay-court specialist.
"I'd love to win a tournament on clay," Osaka said. "I think for me, I'm going to learn a lot from Wim. He's very energetic and excited to move on to the new surfaces.
"It's definitely going to be a really fun and good time with everyone. I haven't lost since Yutaka has came on the team. It's just a good energy to have for me. I feel really bad for my team whenever I lose, but they were all very, very supportive.
"It's going to be really interesting."
After dominating the hardcourts since last summer's restarts by capturing her third and fourth major titles at the US Open and Australian Open, Osaka enters an interesting stretch of the season as the tour turns to natural surfaces. She has yet to progress past the third round at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
"I feel like no matter what I'll have more freedom on the clay courts and the grass than on hard, because I feel like I'm still learning a lot on those surfaces," Osaka said.
Osaka is embracing the challenge of closing the gap on clay and grass. During last year's protracted preparation for the US Open, she used some weeks to train on clay and can look to her 2019 clay season as proof that a breakthrough is imminent.
"It was one of her goals this year to play well outside of the hardcourts," Fissette said in February. "She's still very young. It's time to grow on those surfaces. She also believes she can do well, and I'm sure, with the right preparation with a few tactical technical adjustments, we're gonna do well."
Osaka is scheduled to play her next tournament at the Mutua Madrid Open, which begins on April 29.