So much has happened in a short space of time for Japanese star Naomi Osaka. Just last year, she was No.18 in the world when she played this tournament in Birmingham. Fast forward twelve months and she is the player to beat and the No.1 player in the world, with two Grand Slams under her belt.
Osaka had a disappointing and nervous end to her stay in Paris for the French Open, but crucially she had a full clay court swing to look back on positively overall, as she continues to try to better herself as a player and become a player for all surfaces. The World No.1 has had to deal with increased media attention, increased fan interest, and the pressure of being the player that everyone wants to see when they attend tennis tournaments. She talked about how her Grand Slam success has really impacted her in the last twelve months.
“I mean, I just feel like it gives me more belief in myself. Like, even when I’m down, I feel like I can pick myself back up and other than that I don’t necessarily think my mindset has changed that much.”
Osaka not yet comfortable on grass
Osaka naturally continues to post consistent results throughout the season as she tries to settle into life as a top player, but the grass court swing is something she’s still trying to solve. She said as much in her pre-tournament press conference in Birmingham.
“I don’t know. You know grass, I’m not really that comfortable with it. And it’s always the first tournament that’s the hardest. So, yeah, I have only practiced twice on grass because it was raining a lot. So, yeah, I guess I’m feeling as good as I can.
“It’s just really different to everything that I have ever played on because at least on clay… It’s similar to green clay which I kind of grew up playing, but grass, I have never, like, as a little kid, I have never played on grass so…
“I mean for sure every year I want to improve on something, whether it’s results-wise, or just in playing in general. So definitely I want to go into each season trying to play as well as I can and better than the last year, so that’s definitely a goal.”
The World No.1 also mentioned that she enjoys learning from the heavy defeats that she experiences, often finding that analysing a big loss is actually easier to do than a big win at times. She discussed the manner of the defeat to Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon last year, which turned out to be her last match on the grass before now.
“Yeah, I mean, for me every match I play is a learning experience, of course. But it’s funny, whenever I come to grass I can only like remember the last match I played which is always Wimbledon and last year I played against Kerber and she kind of crushed me (smiling). So that is the thing that I remember the most. No, I mean for me it’s better because I can think about all the things I should improve on, as opposed to, like, winning [laughing]. And I know I don’t do that often [smiling]. So I don’t have to deal with that.
“Yeah, for me, if I think about things that I have done wrong, as opposed to things that I have done right, it is a bit easier to, like, what’s it called, point out. So I’m going to try and think about that match of course, but think about everything that I did, like sort of improved during the year.”
Osaka now has a day to prepare for a first grass challenge of the season. She plays Maria Sakkari of Greece in the first round in Birmingham.
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