Australian Open 2019

Inner peace keeps Osaka raging

US Open champ thirsty for more after making semis, attributes success to her cool head

MELBOURNE • Having tasted her first Grand Slam success at the US Open last year, Naomi Osaka now wants to win another after progressing to her maiden Australian Open semi-final yesterday.

She not only stayed on course for glory at Melbourne Park after blowing away Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-1, but also moved into pole position for the world No. 1 ranking, which could even be decided by the time the semi-finals conclude.

Post-match, the 21-year-old, who is aiming to become just the 10th player to lift the New York-Melbourne double, fired a warning to the rest of the contenders that another Major was close after setting up a last-four clash with Karolina Pliskova today.

In her on-court interview, she said: "This is something that I have been working on a lot, which is trying to get deeper in tournaments more consistently. I have been able to do that.

"But for me, right now, I just try to keep looking forward. So I'm not really satisfied. I am happy that I'm here but, at the same time, I'm so close and I just want to keep going. There are more matches to win."

Osaka, the first Japanese woman to reach the last four in Melbourne since Kimiko Date in 1994, added: "I already know that to be here is something that a lot of people want... but you want to do the next big thing."

That Flushing Meadows final, overshadowed by Serena Williams' infamous meltdown that led to a game deduction for the American on account of verbal abuse and a fine for three code violations, prompted Osaka to work more on the mental aspects of her game during the off-season.

She told reporters: "I feel right now most people know me for (the) US Open, right? And during US Open, I didn't show any emotions most of the time.

"When I'm not calm, it just makes my life harder... there is an inner peace I can tap into sometimes during my matches, and it's kind of hard to get to, but once I'm there, it's really easy. Not easy, but nothing can really bother me."

The world No. 4 showed plenty of zen despite distraction caused when her Ukrainian opponent needed treatment for neck and shoulder injuries in the second set.

The WTA Finals Singapore champion looked nowhere near her best, but the Japanese felt Svitolina "was still really tough".

And Osaka knows she lacked the required fitness to challenge, unlike the big-serving Pliskova. Acknowledging the Czech was up 3-2 in their head-to-head meetings, Osaka admitted the world No. 8, who is also in the running to reach the sport's summit, was "a little bit dangerous".

"I can barely read her serve, so it's very difficult for me," she said.

"She doesn't hit too many unforced errors."

But Li Na, who remains the only Asian-born player to have won two Majors, has tipped Osaka to match her feat, adding that "her quality and focus is really impressive".

In the men's draw, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic reached the semi-finals for the seventh time after eighth seed Kei Nishikori of Japan retired injured when trailing 6-1, 4-1 in their quarter-final clash.

The Serb will meet Lucas Pouille tomorrow, after the Frenchman reached his first Grand Slam semi-final by ousting Canada's Milos Raonic 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 6-4.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2019, with the headline 'Inner peace keeps Osaka raging'. Print Edition | Subscribe