MIAMI -- Two hours before the match, Naomi Osaka was walking in the tunnel under Hard Rock Stadium, headphones clamped on her head. Her eyes weren’t focused on anything in particular -- she looked dialed in.

Later Saturday night after the rain swept through, Osaka emerged with a 6-2, 7-6 (5) victory over the No.15-seeded Elina Svitolina at the Miami Open that should strike some legitimate fear into her Hologic WTA Tour colleagues.

“I definitely do think it was one of my best matches, if not the best match,” Osaka said afterward. “But I also want myself to play better and better every match. I feel like for me going into the match, I knew that she’s a great player, and I had no choice but to play really well if I wanted a chance to win.”

In her past four matches, Osaka has beaten two Top 20 players -- No. 15 Liudmila Samsonova (in Indian Wells) and now No.17 Svitolina. In only her sixth match back, Osaka’s moving better than she was a month ago, is significantly more consistent from the baseline -- and her original timetable of challenging for the US Open title no longer seems overly ambitious.

Osaka now leads the series with Svitolina 4-3. She plays No.23 seed Caroline Garcia -- a 6-1, 5-2 retirement winner over Viktoriya Tomova -- in a third-round match Monday.

Before they met, the match was moved from the Grandstand Court to the more intimate Butch Buchholz Court.

“I honestly think the court was really cool, just like having everyone surrounding and everyone was so loud and vocal,” Osaka said. “It just felt like Miami.”

Coming in, these two had a history of performing well in the Sunshine Double. They’re among the 10 players who have won a combined 25 matches or more at Miami and Indian Wells, now deadlocked at 26. In 2018, Svitolina defeated Osaka here in a second-round match. In her last appearance here, Osaka won five matches before losing to Swiatek.

This was a classic matchup of power versus defense. Svitolina scrambled to stay even but was broken in the sixth game. Osaka opened up the court with a forceful forehand to the corner, then pummeled a backhand crosscourt winner to take a 4-2 lead. She closed out the set with a second break, when Svitolina’s rushed forehand soared long.

'What clever play!': Osaka's baseline-volley winner stuns the crowd in Miami

Osaka broke Svitolina at love in the sixth game of the second set, but Svitolina returned the favor, breaking her for the first time to make it 4-5. Osaka showed some nerves toward the end, but given her lack of match play, that’s normal. In the tiebreak, one last unreachable forehand gave Osaka the win.

On Tuesday, Osaka met with reporters to discuss her progress.

“My biggest goal moving forward …. woo!” Osaka said, pondering. “Obviously, I want to win tournaments, but I know I have to take it one step at a time. Just winning matches. The more matches I win, the more comfortable I’ll be … and hopefully that will lead to holding something above my head one day.”

Before the tournament, she watched videos of her former self, from 2019-21, including some from Miami.

“I really don’t feel like I’m far off this season.”

As Svitolina will tell you.

On the same July day that People Magazine revealed Osaka had become a mother in Los Angeles, some 5,500 miles away Svitolina offered a glimpse into what a successful maternity comeback might look like.

As mothers, they have traced similar curves in their comebacks. Osaka was gone for 15 months, Svitolina for 12. Osaka was unranked on her return, while Svitolina was No.1,081. Svitolina is up to No.17, and Osaka has progressed to No.229. They are also linked by the names of their children. Svitolina, now 29, and ATP Tour star Gael Monfils welcomed Skai into the world back in October of 2022. Osaka, 26, and rapper Cordae named their daughter Shai.

Svitolina, who had returned to the tour earlier last year in Charleston after giving birth, stunned World No.1 Iga Swiatek to reach the semifinals at Wimbledon. It was only her seventh tournament back and built on a surprising title at Strasbourg and a quarterfinal run at Roland Garros.

Osaka came back at the start of 2024. Expectations for her were heightened, of course, by the fact she is a four-time Grand Slam champion. Osaka was a middling 5-5 coming into the Miami Open but had shown flashes of the form that carried her to the No.1 ranking. She reached the quarterfinals in Doha, falling to Karolina Pliskova, and won two of three matches at Indian Wells, losing to Elise Mertens. And now, Osaka has won all four sets she has played in Miami. 

Eight months after giving birth, Osaka is following Svitolina’s lead in a resounding return to the tour.