In-form world No 3 Naomi Osaka believes she is better equipped to deal with the WTA Finals’ demanding round-robin format, after her first appearance at the season-ending showpiece ended in tears.
There was much attention on the Japanese sensation entering last year’s WTA Finals on the back of a controversial US Open victory over Serena Williams.
But Osaka failed to live up to the hype in a winless campaign that ended in tears when she was forced to retire against Kiki Bertens due to a hamstring injury.
Having learned the lessons from that bitter experience, Osaka said she knew what to expect in the $14 million tournament pitting the eight best ranked players of 2019.
The lucrative WTA Finals has moved to the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen for the next 10 years after a five-year run in Singapore.
“I definitely think last year helped me in the way that I kind of know the format more,” Osaka told reporters on Saturday.
“Before last year, I hadn’t played round-robin since I was, like, eight or ten. I think the end of last year was just so hectic for me. Honestly, by the time I got to the WTA Finals, I was just so tired,” Osaka added.
She will be one of the favourites in Shenzhen having claimed successive titles in Osaka and Beijing.
It has been a return to form for the 22-year-old after a stunning first round exit at Wimbledon followed by a lacklustre US Open title defence ended with a round of 16 defeat to Belinda Bencic, who she will face in Shenzhen.
Osaka said renewed concentration was the catalyst for her late season revival. “Those matches that I’ve played [in Beijing and Osaka], I just tried 100 percent,” she said. “I tried to be as focused as I could every point, which for me is something very difficult to do because my mind tends to wander a lot.”
Osaka has been drawn in the Red Group featuring Bencic, world No 1 Ashleigh Barty and Petra Kvitova.
The Finals start on Sunday with Osaka up first against Kvitova, before Barty takes on Bencic.
World No 2 Karolina Pliskova has top billing in the Purple Group and starts her tournament with a mouth-watering clash against defending champion Elina Svitolina on Monday.
US Open champion Bianca Andreescu takes on Wimbledon winner Simona Halep later the same day in a battle of the past two Grand Slam champions.
The top two players in each group advance to the semi-finals next Saturday.
The event’s move to China is highlighted by an eye-watering total prize pool of $14 million with the winner receiving up to $4.725 million – the highest payday in tennis history.