Naomi Osaka: ‘I was stuck there,’ but not now

Naomi Osaka

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN, January 25 – Petra Kvitova is playing wonderfully, but in a sense, so is Naomi Osaka. The Japanese had to boost her game in the third sets, three times, and she kept chugging. She will smoke the crosscourt shots, with her forehands and her backhands. She likes to flatten it out, she can also throw in some spin, and she can sprint all the time. She does have a chance to win at another Grand Slam, two in a row, as five months ago in the US Open, she overcame Serena Williams in the final. That was very dramatic but marred with the Serena’s game penalty.

The same thing occurred two days ago, when Osaka edged out Karolina Pliskova 6-4 in the third. Osaka knew it was super close, but in the last game, she took a deep breath, she took a little bit of time, she tossed it up, and with her serve, she smacked it down into both corners. “Ace, ace,” she yelled. And she also blasted her forehand. She won it, and while Kvitova is playing tremendous ball, the Japanese/Floridian is really fighting and she is getting better mentally.      

“I was stuck there for two years. As soon as I could break away from that, now I’m here again, I think it’s just experience and a confidence issue for me. It’s always felt like [that],” Osaka said. “I would love to say I’m that good, but literally I’m playing the best players in the world, and I’ve been playing three sets most of the time. It’s more like a battle of will at this point.”

She is correct. On Saturday night, in the final, they will go toe-to-toe. They are big hitters, and they have big first serves, and maybe even there second serves. They like to aim down the line, and they keep it low. They know that in the finals at a Grand Slam, they have to stand up very high.

“I love Grand Slams. This is a place where I think is worth all the training,” Osaka said. “When you’re little, you watch the Grand Slams, you watch all the players play, the legendary matches here. For me, this is the most important tournament. There’s only four of them a year, so of course I want to do the best that I can here.”

A few weeks ago, she played at Brisbane. She lost quickly in the semis against Lesia Tsurenko. She was unhappy, but she learned from it. So on Saturday at the Australian Open, she may not win, but she will try every second.

“The biggest thing I took away from that loss was the fact that I didn’t really try 100%. I just accepted the fact that I was going to lose,” she said. “For me, at this tournament, I wasn’t really focused on winning. I just wanted to make sure I tried 100% on every point. I’m still here, so thankfully that’s working out. I know that there’s other things that I can maybe tiny details within the large thought that I’m having of trying my best.”