Naomi Osaka will thrive as world No 1, says Karolina Pliskova

Paul Newman
The Independent

Karolina Pliskova is one of a number of players who struggled to hang on to their position at the top of the world rankings but believes that Naomi Osaka, the latest No 1, is well equipped to handle whatever her new status might bring.

Osaka climbed to the head of the rankings after winning her second Grand Slam title in a row at last month’s Australian Open. The 21-year-old Japanese has not played since and has withdrawn from this week’s Qatar Total Open because of a back problem.

“I think she can do well,” Pliskova said after her first practice session here on Monday. “She proved that by winning another Grand Slam after the US Open. Sometimes players can have some ups-and-downs after they have done well and then lose a few matches in a row. She didn’t do that, so I think she’s going to be fine.”

The world No 5 added: “There is no reason why she should panic, though I know how it’s not going to be easy because in Japan, for sure, it’s a huge thing.”

Pliskova became world No 1 in the summer of 2017. She reached the quarter-finals or better of her next three tournaments but lost the top position within two months after suffering a surprising defeat to Coco Vandeweghe at the US Open.

“I felt strange in the first match or two, but then I think you get used to it,” Pliskova said. “It’s like all the other feelings you might have, like if you get into the top 10 for the first time. Everything obviously takes time.”

Pliskova believes that most players raise their game when they play a world No 1. “Maybe they try a little bit more and play with a little bit more freedom against the top players,” she said.

Osaka, who is due to return in Dubai next week, is one of only two players to have beaten Pliskova this year. Pliskova won the title in Brisbane in the first week of the season, went out to Osaka in the Australian Open semi-finals and then lost to Simona Halep in the Fed Cup on Sunday as the Czech Republic suffered a rare defeat on home soil. Romania secured a place in the World Group semi-finals by winning the deciding doubles as Irina-Camelia Begu and Monica Niculescu beat the French Open and Wimbledon champions, Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova.

After losing to Halep in three sets on Sunday, Pliskova had to make a 190-mile journey from Ostrava to Vienna in order to catch a flight here. “I made it,” the 26-year-old Czech said. “I tried to sleep a bit today and then I went to hit – but not for long. I feel a little tired, but that’s normal because the weekend was not only physically but mentally tough, too.”

Pliskova, who has a first-round bye and will not play her opening match until Wednesday, is seeded to meet Halep again in the final here but is not thinking that far ahead.

“To play Simona I have to win four more matches, so this is very far,” Pliskova, the 2017 champion, said. “Obviously I won a title here, so there is always a different feeling at a tournament where you have won the title, so you believe that you can do it again.

“I also like these conditions, so I don’t see any reason why I should not play good tennis here. I’ve had a lot of tennis in the past few days, but I think if I survive the first couple of days here I’ll be fine.”

Australia’s Ashleigh Barty has pulled out of the tournament following her Fed Cup exertions. The world No 13 had been due to play her first match here on Tuesday, just two days after leading her country to a memorable victory over the United States in North Carolina. On Sunday Barty won both her singles rubber and the deciding doubles.

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