September 4, 2019,

Coming into the US Open with a 14-2 record and a number one ranking should be enough to motivate a player to play their best tennis. Every match. Especially on the world’s biggest stage and more so since they have a target on their back.

They will get every player’s best shot.

Naomi Osaka is the reigning champion in women’s singles at the United States and Australian Open.

Ms. Osaka is currently ranked No. 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). She is the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles. She has won three titles and reached five finals on the WTA Tour.

Incredible resume.

So watching Naomi Osaka come out playing very flat in the round of 16 against Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic was a little puzzling.

As one commentator expressed, Naomi needs to get a little fire in her belly.

The established star from Japan did just that.

After being down 0-2, she fought back with some great serves and hard ground strokes to knot it at 2-2.

It would however be short lived.

2019 has been an up and down affair for Naomi after winning the 2018 US Open in September followed up by winning the 2019 Australian Open.

Since then, after firing her coach, connected or not, by her standards, Naomi has struggled.

Naomi stated over and over publicly that her stunning split with Sascha Bajin had nothing to do with money but it was because she was determined that her career would not be about putting success over happiness., photo-via-Tennis-World-USA.jpg

Hmm, now what does that really mean?

Very wise in theory, but is it practical? Can’t you have both?

Perhaps. Perhaps just not with Sascha.

Naomi’s spiritual philosophy and high standards are acknowledged by many to be very real. The classy way that she acts on the court towards other players is well-documented like allowing the young 15 year old American Coco Gauff to share the interview spotlight with her after she steamrolled the youngster 6-3, 6-0 in the 3rd round at the 2019 Open., photo-via Yahoo Sports

It was a moment in sportsmanship that the tennis world will forever remember.

The highly decorated coach had guided Naomi to back-to-back Grand Slam titles as well as to the summit of the WTA rankings. Mr. Bajin is a former hitting partner of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki, and was named as the WTA’s coach of the year in 2018 after his success with Ms. Osaka.

The question becomes how far should loyalty go?

There was a time that American workers would stay loyal to a job for over 20-30 years and get the gold watch. Practical yes, but was that wise?

Future generations learned to keep moving and take the best job opportunities out there to further their career, especially when companies began to lay workers off and move jobs overseas. Switching to different companies that promised better pay, career advancement and benefits became more common.

According to Time Magazine as reported on April 5, 2019, “Two-time Grand Slam winner and World No. 1 tennis star Naomi Osaka has signed an endorsement deal with sportswear giant Nike. Osaka, who had previously been associated with sportswear rival Adidas, expressed her excitement about joining the Nike roster.”

Naomi appears to be a person wise enough to know when it is time to make a change and pursue a better opportunity.

No waiting around for a gold watch for her.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”…Barack Obama

As 2019 progressed Naomi failed to defend her title at Indian Wells, being defeated by Belinda Bencic in the fourth round. She suffered an early loss to Hsieh Su-wei at the 2019 Miami Open before reaching her first clay court semifinal at the Stuttgart Open, where she withdrew before the match due to an abdominal injury.

Now we can understand Belinda’s confidence facing Naomi at the Open since she has defeated her three times before.

According to Bencic has defeated Naomi in 2018 and 2019 while Naomi has not defeated Bencic since her earliest days in 2013.

Entering the grass court season, Naomi was looking to return to elite form. Unfortunately she was defeated in the second round of Birmingham by Yulia Putintseva. With the loss, Naomi fell to the world’s No. 2 after French Open champion Ashleigh Barty won the Birmingham title.

Ms. Osaka was seeded second for Wimbledon but lost in the first round, once again to Yulia Putintseva.

At the beginning of August, Osaka even made a post on Twitter discussing her struggles with her game since the 2019 Australian Open.

So before her battle here today with Belinda, though regaining the number one spot, Naomi doesn’t seemed to have regained number one form.

Or confidence.

The two young women would battle back and forth but clearly Belinda was hitting the ball harder, cleaner and moving better. We have seen this before with Naomi who tends to gather herself and make a strong comeback.

She couldn’t this time and Bencic takes the first set 7-5 that was really not as close as the score indicates.

The second set would reveal some of what Naomi appeared to be struggling with as a trainer was called out to attend to her. It appears that she is suffering from knee problems which is hindering her movements.

Having stated that, this is another ideal opportunity for Belinda to defeat Naomi and progress to the quarterfinals.

Naomi double faults in the second set to go down 2-3.

There will be no comeback for Naomi today as Bencic dispatches her with powerful passing shots and incredible down the line shots and soon it is over, Bencic winning the second set and the match at 6-4.

Belinda has now defeated Naomi four times in a row. Sometimes a player just seems to have your number.

As a result of her loss today, this coming Monday, September 9, 2019 will see Australia’s Ashleigh Barty as the world’s number one.

The tennis world hopes that Naomi gets some rest and begins to surge again in 2020.

The 2020 Australian Open should be very telling., photo-via Sporting News

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Opening photo WTA photo credit