For the better part of the 2021 season, Naomi Osaka was in contention for a third straight appearance at the WTA Finals. In fact, she was at the top spot in the race to qualify for the season-ending event immediately after winning her fourth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.
As the season progressed, Osaka stayed away from the court for vast stretches due to her personal struggles. Despite that, she was still in the running for a Finals spot since she had accrued a fair amount of points from whatever events she had entered.
While the Japanese is currently on another hiatus following her third-round exit from the US Open, she did indicate a desire to compete again soon. But given the developments over the last couple of weeks, Osaka can only compete next year; her chances of qualifying for the WTA Finals are over.
Paula Badosa has clinched a spot at the Finals with her Indian Wells win, while Ons Jabeur is in eighth place after her string of strong results. And on Sunday Anett Kontaveit won the Moscow title to leapfrog past Naomi Osaka for the ninth position, which means the Japanese can no longer qualify unless someone (in addition to Ashleigh Barty) withdraws.
Kontaveit had a long shot at qualifying, but she has been playing some brilliant tennis the last two months and has gained significant ground by winning two titles. Now at 2,881 points, the Estonian is locked in a battle for the last spot with Jabeur who is at 3,020 points.
Kontaveit is entered in the Transylvania Open this week, and she will overtake the Tunisian (who has withdrawn from the Courmayeur Ladies Open due to injury) if she wins the title. Osaka, meanwhile, is at 2,771 points, and since she hasn't entered any event this week, she cannot catch either of the two players ahead of her.
Naomi Osaka could still get into the WTA Finals as an alternate
Nevertheless, Naomi Osaka still has an outside chance of getting in. Even though she can't qualify directly, the Japanese will have the opportunity to be one of the two alternate players at the event - to replace anyone who gets injured while the tournament is underway.
The 24-year-old could also qualify if someone withdraws between now and the start of the event. With the WTA Finals talking place in Mexico this year, one or more players could possibly balk at the idea of traveling that far amid the pandemic. On the other hand, it won't be a taxing trip for Osaka as she lives in California.
All of this, however, depends on the four-time Slam champion's willingness to play.
If not at the WTA Finals, Naomi Osaka's next appearance on tour will likely be at the start of the 2022 season. She is the defending champion at the Australian Open, so she wouldn't want to miss out on playing that.