Today I am going to be analyzing the match between the 2010 champion of this event Caroline Wozniacki and the Japanese teenager in her first career final Naomi Osaka. Both are seeking to achieve their own goals. Wozniacki is looking to win a title after a sluggish year, and Naomi Osaka is looking to be the first Japanese winner in Japan for over 20 years. Let’s see who had the edge.
As many know about Caroline Wozniacki, she has had a bad reputation in the past. She got to world number one without ever winning a grand slam. After dropping out of the top 10, Wozniacki was pursuing a better name, improving her game to now, once again, make her one of the hardest opponents to beat. She now is able to move forward and be more aggressive, instead of waiting for her opponents to make the mistake. Unfortunately, bad habits don’t fully go away, so there will be examples in this match where Wozniacki was a little too passive.
Even though Wozniacki’s bad habit is to be too passive, on the other side of the spectrum we have Osaka, who’s bad habit is to be too aggressive at the wrong time. Since Osaka is only a teenager, she will be going into this match with the lesser experience of the two, which will come into play in a big way in this match. Osaka is a hard hitter, who can end the point from anywhere on the court, but a lack of focus can easily make that her greatest weakness.
Now that we have some background on these two players let’s start with analyzing the first set. We can tell Wozniacki is looking to not be passive this match because she won the very first point at the net. This aggressiveness can be seen also on her return. Even though Osaka has a massive serve, being the leader of aces in the entire tournament, Wozniacki continued to take Osaka’s second serves early, taking time away from Osaka. If you are a player who naturally does not have a lot of power, taking balls early is a great strategy because it takes away time from your opponent, which is equally or even more effective than continuously penetrating the court. Something just as effective as taking the ball early is hitting behind your opponent. Osaka did an amazing job of this throughout the match. When you are playing someone like Wozniacki, who gets to everything, hitting behind your opponent is so important. At the beginning of the match, Osaka hit so many winners just from hitting behind Wozniacki with a normal baseline shot. Once this shot becomes predictable by your opponent, hitting to the open court now becomes just as effective because now your opponent isn’t expecting it. At this point in the match, your opponent with always be on their heels, not knowing which way you will hit the ball. When your opponent is on their heels, you can go for safer targets, bringing your unforced errors way down.
Osaka also did a brilliant job of making sure she took the second serves of Wozniacki early. However, Wozniacki, with her experience, knew exactly what to do. When someone time after time again is attacking your second serves and you do not know how to make them stop, hit a slice second serve. It is very hard to take slice serves early, causing your opponent to be off-balanced and unlikely to stand so far up close again. If they keep persisting on taking your serve early, keep slicing for a little bit. Or if that is too advanced, you can change the placement of your second serve which will also throw them off. This service strategy is important because whenever Wozniacki didn’t slice or change the placement of her serve, Osaka hit an incredible winner down the line every time.
The only major weakness seen among both of these players is their difficulty with taking balls out of the air. They both move forward very well, so watching this match it was interesting for me to see that whenever the ball went up, they would wait for the ball to bounce instead of taking time away from their opponent and hitting out of the air. However, since they are both talented, they were both able to still win the point, but with much more difficulty than if they took the ball out of the air. Hitting the ball out of the air is important because it can be seen in two lights. The first is that it can be seen as a winning shot, since you are taking time away from your opponent. If you let the ball bounce, like these two players did, you allow your opponent to recover, hence giving them an opportunity to get your next shot. The second light is that it is seen as a transition shot to the net. An advantage of taking the ball early, as I have said earlier, is that it puts your opponent on their heels. This allows you to go for bigger targets, decreasing your margin for error. Even though your opponent might get to your shot, you are at the net and they are on the defensive, giving you a complete advantage to finish off the point.
At this point in the set Osaka is winning because she is moving Wozniacki all over the place, and hitting her big shots at the right times. But then the most decisive moment of the entire match happens: Wozniacki takes a medical timeout. Next thing Osaka knows, she is down a set and 0-5. Let’s see what happened. Osaka did one of the worst things you can ever do in a match:she dropped her intensity. Dropping your intensity is like telling your partner, “I don’t think I’m up to working hard today, just beat me!”. Many times you will get an opponent who takes a medical timeout just to mess with your intensity. Even though we can assume that Wozniacki was actually injured, I have experienced players in my career where they take a medical to take a break and to make you cool off. Whether your opponent has good or bad intentions, you must always keep moving when there is a medical timeout. Secondly, you must not focus on your opponent. You cannot change the way they feel, so continue to focus on yourself and the ball on your side of the court. The second they resumed play, Osaka lacked all focus and was slapping balls in the net and out of the court as if she didn’t care. Of course she cares, but her intensity and focus were not present after the medical timeout.
Wozniacki took advantage of Osaka’s drop of intensity and was her usual self. She kept the ball in and let Osaka lose all the points. Wozniacki won the first set 7-5.
The second set was way less competitive. Osaka’s lack of focus and intensity carried her to go down 0-5 in the second set before she calmed down and started to focus again. At this point, the set became as competitive as the first set was before the medical timeout, since they were both focused and hitting the right shots. However, Wozniacki still pulled through 6-3 because once you give your opponent a little hint of weakness, they put the pedal to the metal!