Wouldn't it be wonderful to see Naomi Osaka experience the unadulterated joy she was denied at the US Open last month? It's a moment she deserved, one that every young player dreams about. But for Osaka, the controversial ending during her championship run turned a celebration into conflicting emotions and tears.
One day, Osaka will be remembered largely for the poise she showed under extraordinary duress. But for now, the circumstances that ensued between Serena Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos have overshadowed Osaka's first major title. For that, the game owes Osaka a moment of bliss.
Osaka will have her chance to walk away from the 2018 season with nothing but positive thoughts next week at the WTA Finals, where the top eight players in the race meet in Singapore.
"The memory of the US Open is a little bittersweet," Osaka told reporters in China at the beginning of this month. "It was so strange. I didn't want to think about it. I wanted to push it to the side."
That's one for the record books. Has any first-time Grand Slam winner ever said anything remotely like that?
Osaka, ranked No. 4, appears to be in good shape going into the championships. She backed up her win at the US Open with a solid fall, reaching the final at Tokyo and, more recently, a semifinal in Beijing.
Clearly, Osaka has matured since her breakthrough win at Indian Wells last March, a title that was followed by a letdown and a struggle to adjust to her new notoriety.
"She seems to have set a higher bar for herself, and so far she's clearing it," ESPN analyst Pam Shriver said. "Her performance in Tokyo told me a lot."
Osaka's confidence ought to be high. She appears injury-free, and she's still just 21, so neither year-end fatigue nor wear and tear looms as a factor in Singapore. The field will be strong, with four other Grand Slam singles champions (Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens, Petra Kvitova) in contention. But Osaka, who hits a punishing ball, likes indoor hard courts. The magnitude of the occasion is unlikely to inhibit Osaka. If anything, it could inspire her.
"Naomi is one of those individuals who really craves the big stage, so that definitely helps her competing out there," Sascha Bajin, her coach, said at the US Open. He added he doesn't have to dedicate too much time trying to "get her to calm down."
Osaka is only 3-6 against top-10 opponents this year. Among fellow 2018 Grand Slam winners, Kerber has a win over Osaka this year, as does Simona Halep (she's actually 2-1 over Osaka in 2018 but probably will not play the championships because of a herniated disk). Wozniacki and Osaka didn't play this year, but the Australian Open champ leads the career series 2-0. Osaka hasn't played Stephens or Kvitova this year.
Elina Svitolina, who has never won a major, could be the biggest stumbling block for Osaka. Svitolina leads their career series 3-2 but has won the past two -- both this year. Her consistent, bread-and-butter game is often problematic for some robust ball-strikers like Osaka. But the round-robin format usually allows for a loss (sometimes even two) before the knockout stage, which will help Osaka if she ends up in the same group as Svitolina.
The diversity of the field ensures the WTA Finals could produce any number of satisfying endings, but none of them would also ring of justice in quite the same way as an Osaka triumph.