How Naomi Osaka's backhand and serve are setting her up nicely for WTA Finals
Naomi Osaka goes into the WTA Finals in Shenzhen full of confidence following victories in Osaka and Beijing, dispelling any myths that she was undergoing a slump.
The last three majors may not have gone according to plan because of the pressure the Japanese felt after reaching the high of becoming world No 1, but she is still only 21 and is showing signs of improvement each tournament.
Developing different parts of her game, such as her topspin backhand and the placement of the serve, are things the current world No 3 is working on and we have seen that at different points this season. She is even getting better at handling difficult moments in the match such as break points on her serve.
As part of our ‘Countdown to Shenzhen’ series ahead of the WTA Finals, we look at the changes Osaka made in her game this year and how she is now more successful in crunch situations within a match.
Fearsome forehand is not the only strength
When Osaka shocked the world, and Serena Williams, in the US Open final last year, the stand-out shot was undoubtedly the forehand. The loading of power by moving her shoulder and hips away from the ball, and then the body rotation through the ball makes it unstoppable at times.
But last year, she had a tendency to run around her backhand or use the backhand slice when she was pulled out of position on court. Up until the end of 2018, 39.5% of Osaka’s shots were drive backhands.
This year, she has upped the number of drive backhands by almost 11% and the number of slice backhands this year stands at just 1.4%, compared to above 6% in the rest of her career.
This adaptability and not allowing the opponent to target an obvious weakness presents new problems for her opponents and allows her to have new options to beat her opponents.
Saving more break points shows improvement under pressure
Between Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Osaka only saved 29 out of the 53 break points she faced and for a player whose serve is crucial to success, it was inevitable that this period coincided with a bad run of form.
However, since the start of the US Open, she has saved 48/72 break points, giving her a 66.7% break point save percentage and that is much improved on her previous run.
Her semi-final victory over Caroline Wozniacki in Beijing saw Osaka save all seven of the break points she faced, only the fourth match of the season in which she could save all the break points.
This just shows how her confidence is back on the serve in pressure moments and should she continue in the same vain next week in Shenzhen, she could end the year with another big title under her belt.