Charles Perrin explains why Naomi Osaka is well placed to make a big impact in Shenzhen and add the WTA Finals title to her trophy cabinet.
"Her change in demeanour in court has coincided with more confidence in her game, something she was lacking earlier in the year."
After a gritty victory over Ashleigh Barty in the China Open last weekend, Naomi Osaka is in ominous form and recapturing some of her best tennis that catapulted her to top spot in the women's rankings at the beginning of the year.
China Open joy
The Japanese superstar clinched her second WTA Premier crown with a hard fought win against Barty in Sunday's final as she recovered from going a set down. Although she initially found it tough to break down her Australian counterpart's serve, Osaka combined power with finesse and prevailed. The two-time Grand Slam champion feels at home on a hard court and she was terrific on serve throughout the contest. While she lost serve just once in the opening set, she won 80% of those points.
When you factor in that Osaka has embarked on a 10-match winning streak since her last 16 round exit to Belinda Bencic at the US Open last month, the 21-year-old has climbed back into the top three of the world rankings after slipping out of the lofty echelons of the game last month. Shenzhen will play quite fast and Osaka is priced at [4.90] with the Betfair Exchange to take the title.
Six players have already booked their place in the final tournament of the campaign and it looks set to be a fascinating spectacle. In fact, Osaka only trails Bianca Andreescu in the outright market as the US Open champion is trading at [4.40] while Barty has been offered the same odds at [4.90].
Previously, Osaka was depicted as being very emotional and uptight on court. But after being pushed off top spot in the WTA rankings in June, she has learned from her mistakes and she now comes across as more composed and she doesn't beat herself up too much when things don't go her way.
Some of her stats for 2019 make for impressive reading too. Osaka has saved 61% of break points faced on serve and she nudges the 78% mark when it comes to service games won. Her break point conversion rate is at a healthy 46% and her change in demeanour in court has coincided with more confidence in her game, something she was lacking earlier in the year.
Becoming the hunter again
When Osaka was knocked off top spot a few months ago, it seemed to take a while for her to come to terms with it. To a certain extent, she was honest enough to say that she couldn't handle the 'pressure' that entailed being the best in women's tennis.
But she has been resurgent since the US Open and as mentioned, she's back up to third in the rankings. She's closing in on Karolina Pliskova as she's less than 300 points behind her. A triumph in Shenzhen for Osaka is on the cards as she is superb on hard court. Not only will it be a great way to cap off an up and down campaign, but it will also enable her to launch a serious assault on the Grand Slams next year.