Osaka reveals weight of victories

Naomi Osaka hoisting the trophy from the China Open, her second straight title, having won last month's Pan Pacific Open.
Naomi Osaka hoisting the trophy from the China Open, her second straight title, having won last month's Pan Pacific Open.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIJING • Naomi Osaka has opened up on the immense pressure she placed on herself earlier this year that contributed to a slump in form and the loss of her world No. 1 ranking.

The 21-year-old Japanese continued her late-season resurgence on Sunday with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over top-ranked Ashleigh Barty of Australia in the China Open final.

Her Beijing win also meant back-to-back WTA Tour titles following her maiden Pan Pacific Open crown, and Osaka is beginning to regain the form that saw her lift two successive Grand Slams and rise to the summit of women's tennis.

She has not lost a match since her fourth-round exit at the US Open last month and is on a 10-win streak. She is among the favourites for the Oct 27-Nov 3 season-ending WTA Finals in Shenzhen, for which she has already qualified alongside Barty, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep, Bianca Andreescu and Petra Kvitova.

While she clinched the Australian Open in January, a struggle with depression and life in the spotlight, and high-profile splits with previous coaches Sascha Bajin and Jermaine Jenkins contributed to her failure to match those high standards at the next three Grand Slams.

However, Osaka, who moved up to third in the world yesterday, with Elina Svitolina of Ukraine dropping down to fourth, revealed "this dip that I had really humbled me".

"It made me very motivated to be here right now," she said.

"I honestly was counting the ranking points. I was too stats-oriented after I won the Australian Open because there was this big thing about you're No. 1 now.

"Then, I felt like I shouldn't lose a match after that. I know that's crazy but I was like, 'You know what, if (Roger) Federer can do it, I can do it'."

Osaka, who burst into the limelight after beating 23-time Slam winner Serena Williams to secure last year's US Open, also added that she was trying to "care" a little less to take the pressure off.

"I'd never been No. 1 and a lot of people were talking about it, I let it get to my head a little bit," she said."It's not even outside pressure, just pressure from myself, and sometimes it helps me play very well. Other times, it just makes me overthink."

She felt that she would be able to cope better with her expectations in the future.

"Honestly, I don't think I'll ever feel the same way that I felt again right after Australia," she said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2019, with the headline 'Osaka reveals weight of victories'. Print Edition | Subscribe