DUBAI, UAE - World No.1 Naomi Osaka bowed out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in the second round on Tuesday, losing 6-3, 6-3 to Kristina Mladenovic. In a rematch of a first-round encounter here last year, Mladenovic managed to turn the tables on the Australian Open champion, breaking her serve seven times en route to her first win over a World No.1.
Told that her serve looked to let her down in the match - she served at 45% first serves in and won just 19% of her second serve points - Osaka couldn't help but laugh.
"'It let me down.' That was an understatement. It was a disaster," Osaka told reporters after the match.
"No, I haven't been practicing well recently. I just thought it would go away during the matches. I was kind of counting on that. That didn't happen."
Osaka said she had struggled to find her rhythm on the practice courts ahead her opening round.
"I mean, my rhythm was kind of off [in practice]," she said. "But there's been times where it's been worse than now, and I managed to play well in matches.
"Yeah, when I say I haven't been practicing well, just like rhythm. I don't know, I feel like I'm not doing enough or something."
Osaka dismissed any cause for panic.
"I mean, the Australian Open was not even a month ago," the 21-year-old said. "This was just one match. I feel like even if I don't win any matches for the rest of the year, I wouldn't say I'm concerned. I think I'm pretty young. I still feel like I have a lot to learn.
"For me, that's sort of my biggest thing after this match. I think I play well after I lose a sort of bad match. I'm just looking forward to the next tournament."
Osaka has reason to be confident as she's set to head to the BNP Paribas Open as the defending champion. Last summer, after a series of tough losses, she went on to win the US Open. In January, after a disappointing performance in the semifinals of the Brisbane International, Osaka bounced back to win the Australian Open.
"I'm sort of notoriously tough on myself," Osaka explained. "Before US Open, I lost those three matches in a row. I was just thinking, like, Wow, am I ever going to do anything in my life?
"Yeah, I was thinking to take it one match at a time. Even if something happens this year that is not necessarily good for me, I need to look at all the positive things that I've done."
"For sure there's no one that really thinks losing is fun," Osaka said during the Japanese portion of her press conference. "But for me, I've always been taught that when you lose, you learn more than when you win. I try to take that as really important advice because I think it is true."
Playing in her first tournament since splitting with coach Sascha Bajin, Osaka admitted the public reaction to the news took her off-guard. Famously known for being shy in the spotlight, Osaka grew emotional when describing why it has been difficult to block out the swirl that surrounded her in the lead-up to the tournament.
"This match is the result of that," Osaka said. "I'm pretty sure as time goes on you guys will stop talking about it. For now, it's like the biggest tennis news, I guess.
"See, it's a little bit hard because I feel like people are staring at me, and not in a good way."
"I don't think I necessarily understand what position I'm in, in a way, because last year I wasn't even anywhere close to this ranking," Osaka said. "People didn't pay attention to me. That's something that I'm comfortable with."
Despite the loss, Osaka will head to Indian Wells with the No.1 ranking intact as she prepares for another career milestone: defending a title for the first time in her career.
"I'm not really sure [how I'll feel] because I've never been a defending champion," Osaka said. "Hopefully I remember all the good times that I've had there, somehow start feeling better about myself.
"But I can't really say until I get there."