DUBAI, UAE - Naomi Osaka lost her first match as World No.1 on Tuesday, and admitted to feeling the extra eyes and attention at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis.
“I don't think I necessarily understand what position I'm in, in a way,” she said after the 6-3, 6-3 defeat to Kristina Mladenovic. “Last year I wasn't even anywhere close to this ranking. People didn't pay attention to me. That's something that I'm comfortable with.”
Seeded second in Dubai, former World No.2 Petra Kvitova could relate to the whiplash resulting from a meteoric rise; the two-time Wimbledon winner was ranked outside the Top 30 to start her breakthrough 2011 season, finishing it one match shy of the top spot.
“She is kind of shy person, probably like me at the time,” Kvitova noted after a three-set win over Jennifer Brady on Wednesday. “It was really difficult for me, that time, for sure. I totally understand Naomi.”
The Czech veteran reflected on her own transition from dangerous floater to top player, and felt it took her at least a year to completely adjust to the spotlight.
“It took me while, for sure, then three years to win another Grand Slam. I was still in the Top 10. I was still fighting, but in the big stages, I couldn't just do it.
“On the other hand, it's about experiences and coming to the court knowing that you are the favorite of every match. Every player on the other side wants to beat you. She's No.1, Grand Slam winner, everyone just wants to beat her. That's how the players are thinking. I do remember when I was young, I totally had same mindset. That's how it is.”
Simona Halep could also sympathize to carrying the hopes of a nation, roaring up the rankings in 2013 before finally earning the No.1 ranking and Grand Slam title three and five years later.
“Nobody has or had what I had in Romania,” she smiled after a straight-set win over Lesia Tsurenko. “Trust me that I am strong, that I could resist these things.
“2014 was the worst, then one more year, then that was it. Now I'm feeling good.”
Like Halep - and unlike Osaka - Karolina Pliskova became World No.1 without winning a major title, and was surprised to hear her rival was feeling any ill effects of her dizzying climb.
“I think winning a Grand Slam for the first time and being No.1, I don’t know if I would really feel pressure,” she confessed Tuesday night.
“From my opinion, the pressure had to be bigger for her after the US Open because that was the bigger surprise than now. Now, she’s played so well to win two Grand Slams and be World No.1. Everybody expects her to win all of her matches right now, because she’s the best.
“I thought she was handling the pressure well, but maybe being here in Asia, plus it’s her first tournament she’s played, she might need a couple of matches.”
Kvitova also preached patience, confident that her Australian Open conqueror would soon find her footing.
“She just needs time. I don't think there's any advice. I think that she just need to live it and find experiences from it. She will be fine.”