Australian Open champion, Naomi Osaka begins her 2020 season on Tuesday when she faces Greece's Maria Sakkari in the first round of the Brisbane International.
Osaka is seeking an 11th consecutive win on the tour, following a very impressive conclusion to last season. The world No. 4 claimed back-to-back titles in Osaka and Beijing before withdrawing from the WTA Finals in Shenzhen with a shoulder injury.
The Japanese superstar is competing in Brisbane for the second straight year, having made the semi-finals in her main draw debut last season. That Brisbane run set her up for a brilliant Australian Open triumph, when she battled through a loaded draw that included Anastasija Sevastova, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova to claim her second success Grand Slam title.
Her Aussie Open triumph also propelled to the world No. 1 ranking for the first time. Osaka struggled to reach those Melbourne heights in the following months, making just one WTA semi-final in her next 12 tournaments, but she was back to her very best towards the end of the year, powering to titles in Osaka and Beijing. Osaka was the tour’s form player heading into the closing stages of 2019, beating fellow Grand Slam champions, Bianca Andreescu, Caroline Wozniacki and Ashleigh Barty in an impressive title run in Beijing, but her season was brought to a premature conclusion by a shoulder injury that forced her to quit the WTA Finals after just one match.
The Japanese announced during the off season that she had appointed Belgian Wim Fissette as her new coach, as she aims to maintain her position in the top echelon of the women’s game in 2020. Osaka has had a few coaching changes over the last year. She split with Sascha Bajin- the German coach that guided her to her two major titles- just after the Australian Open, while she also worked with Jermaine Jenkins and her father during the course of the season.
Her new partnership with Fissette will undergo its first test when the two-time major winner takes on dangerous Greek, Maria Sakkari on Tuesday.
Sakkari is coming off a rock solid 2019, when she claimed her maiden career title in Rabat, and contested semi-finals in Rome and San Jose. The 24-year-old also made quarter finals in Cincinnati, Charleston and Nottingham, and reached the third round at Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Sakkari also qualified for the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, but she lost both of her round robin matches to Aryna Sabalenka and Elise Mertens. Her efforts earned her a year-end ranking of 23rd, just one spot shy of her career-high ranking, which she attained on October last year.
Sakkari is competing in the Brisbane main draw for the first time, three years after she fell in the first qualifying round to Katerina Bondarenko in her only previous appearance at the tournament. The Greek has been slow off the blocks in the last few seasons, and will be seeking a much sharper start in this year.
She lost her first four main draw matches in 2018, while she suffered opening round exits in four of her first five tournaments last season. Can she make a cleaner getaway in 2020? She faces a tough start against Naomi Osaka on Tuesday.
It’s also a tricky start for Osaka, who owns a 2-1 lead over the Greek in their head-to-head. Both of Osaka’s victories have come in three sets- Indian Wells 2018 and Birmingham last year- while Sakkari squeezed in a straights sets win in between those results in Cincinnati in 2018.
Being the start of the season, there’s always the possibility of the top players being caught a little cold, and very prone to the upset especially when they have to open against very dangerous opponents like Sakkari. We have already seen quite a few surprising results in Brisbane this year- Sakkari has definitely got the ability to make life very difficult for Osaka on Tuesday.