Naomi Osaka might just be the finest sportswoman on the planet at the moment. When she steps onto the court for her Miami Open quarter-final, she will have the chance to win her 24th consecutive match, a run that has delivered her the US Open and Australian Open titles.
Tonight, Osaka will face Greek 23rd seed Maria Sakkari as she looks to add the Miami Open to her growing trophy collection and it seems on the hard court, she is simply unbeatable. To put this run in some sort of context, the Japanese’s last defeat came on the 7th February 2020. That is now almost 14 months ago.
That day, she was shockingly beaten by the woman then ranked 78th in the world, Sara Sorribes Tormo. In that Fed Cup match-up, Osaka was bageled in the opening set by the Spaniard before losing six games in a row when 0-2 up in the second. It was a performance so out of character from the champion we see today, but this unbeaten run is some way to respond to an embarrassing upset.
She is now only the fifth woman since 2000 to reach 23 wins in a row, but some way short of the record set in the 1980s. That all-time longest win streak is held by Martina Navratilova, who put together a simply ridiculous 74 successive wins during 1984, only for Helena Sukova to come from a set down to beat her in the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
At the US Open last year, Osaka came from one set down against Victoria Azarenka to win 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 and reclaim the title she won in 2018, while at the Australian Open she dropped just one set in total, beating Serena Williams in the semi-finals and Jennifer Brady in the final. This means she now holds two of the four Grand Slam titles available, with the French Open and Wimbledon to come.
So how far can Osaka stay unbeaten, and what lies ahead of her in 2021? Well, given what we have seen from her so far this year it would be a surprise if she doesn’t win the Miami Open and extend her winning streak to 26. However, it is difficult to say how much longer the wins will continue as the surfaces change.
As the clay season begins we are still unsure if Osaka will enter a tune-up tournament ahead of the French, having ruled herself out of playing in the Stuttgart Open. The aforementioned French Open at Roland Garros begins on May 17 and will provide her with some difficult opposition on arguably her weakest surface, clay. Her best performance in Paris to date is a third round exit but the US and Australian Open champion has big ambitions.
“I feel more excited than anything. I think there’s a feeling of doing something for the first time and wanting to be good at a lot of different things. For me, it’s a real priority. And I also kind of want to complete my set of trophies. I’m missing two.”
“I feel like I have everything that I need to do well on clay and on grass, but it’s just [about] feeling comfortable. I don’t think I feel totally comfortable on either surface because I didn’t really play on red clay or grass growing up and I’ve played on hard basically my whole life. So, yeah, just more experience.”
If she can get over her clay hoodoo, there should be absolutely no stopping her by the time we see her at Wimbledon. Holding all four trophies is something incredibly rare and special, but Osaka, still only 23, is unbeaten and halfway to achieving that goal.