Former World No.1 Naomi Osaka returned to her winning ways on Monday, as she defeated No.15 seed Caroline Garcia 7-5, 6-4 in their first-round clash at the WTA 1000 Qatar TotalEnergies Open.
Osaka claimed a measure of revenge with the 1-hour and 28-minute win in Doha. She avenged her first-round loss to Garcia earlier this year at the Australian Open, which was Osaka's first Grand Slam appearance since her maternity leave began at the end of 2022.
"Honestly I feel like I'm a much better player now," Osaka said, comparing her two 2024 showdowns with Garcia. "I think in Australia my returns weren't as good, and I don't feel like I was as focused as I am now.
"I think that definitely made a difference, especially against such a good server like she is."
A decade later, rematch with Martic: In the second round, Osaka will take on Petra Martic of Croatia. Former Top 15 player Martic needed to go the distance on Monday before squeaking past Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(5) in just under three hours of play.
Osaka won her only previous encounter with Martic, which came 10 years ago in the final qualifying round at 2014 Stanford. By defeating Martic in that match, a 16-year-old Osaka earned a spot in her first-ever WTA main draw (and then promptly upset Samantha Stosur in the first round).
By the numbers: Osaka won the first match of her comeback this season, against Tamara Korpatsch in Brisbane, but had lost her next three in succession. Now Osaka is back on track, garnering her first win over a Top 50 player since she beat Belinda Bencic at the Miami Open in March of 2022.
Osaka is 48-3 in WTA 1000 main draws when she wins the opening set. The last time she lost a WTA 1000 match from a set up was in Cincinnati 2021 against Jil Teichmann.
Match moments: Garcia won her first 11 service points to kick off the rematch, conjuring up memories of her Australian Open meeting with Osaka, where the Frenchwoman never faced a break point.
However, Osaka finally got a look in on Garcia's serve in 2024, grasping two break points when Garcia was serving for the set at 5-4. The Japanese star's imposing returns earned her a break at last to reach 5-5.
Suddenly it was Osaka in the ascendancy as she fended off two break points to reach 6-5. Osaka then powered her way to a commanding love break, winning her fourth straight game to eke out the one-set lead from 5-3 down.
Osaka earned one more break -- in the last game of the match, to close out the win. Garcia had eight more winners than Osaka in the match, but Osaka countered with eight fewer unforced errors. Osaka was also a perfect 3-for-3 on break points, while Garcia went 1-for-8.