DUBAI – Japanese world No. 1 Naomi Osaka, who won the Australian Open less than a month ago, crashed out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday, falling to France’s Kristina Mladenovic, the world No. 67, 6-3, 6-3 in the second round.
“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,” Osaka said in her post-match press conference.
The Australian Open champion ran into a fired-up Mladenovic, who won 70 percent of her break chances.
Osaka got in just 45 percent of her first serves and won only 19 percent of her second-serve points, allowing Mladenovic to dictate the pace.
“‘It let me down.’ That was an understatement. It was a disaster,” Osaka said in response to a question from a reporter. “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.”
In response to a question, Osaka said she was surprised by the reaction to her decision to part ways with coach Sascha Bajin, who many credited with helping her win the 2018 US Open and follow up that Grand Slam title with a second major in Australia.
“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.”
Next up for the 21-year-old Osaka is the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, where the Japanese star won her first big WTA Tour title last year.
Mladenovic, for her part, said her hard work since the end of last season paid off in her second-round match against the world No. 1.
“I worked a lot to change some things, to maybe go a step back to just improve and come back where I was, which is Top 10. It’s my goal,” Mladenovic said.
The Frenchwoman, who was once ranked 10th in the world, said she focused on improving her service game.
“So often I was struggling on my serve, having many double faults, low first-serve percentage, and opponents were attacking my second. So many matches I felt like I lost because of my serve. That was not acceptable for me because I believe it has to become a weapon of mine,” the 25-year-old Mladenovic said.
Up next for Mladenovic is Spanish veteran Carla Suarez Navarro, the world No. 26, beat China’s Shuai Zhang, the world No. 39, 6-4, 6-4 in the second round.