Osaka won't put success over happiness

World No. 1 Japanese refutes suggestions that split with coach Sascha Bajin is over money

Naomi Osaka showing off her culinary skills as part of the fringe activities before the start of the Dubai Tennis Championships.
Naomi Osaka showing off her culinary skills as part of the fringe activities before the start of the Dubai Tennis Championships. PHOTO: TWITTER/ DDFTENNIS

DUBAI • Naomi Osaka said she valued happiness more than on-court success as she opened up about her split last week with coach Sascha Bajin, who led her to consecutive tennis Grand Slam titles - the US Open and the Australian Open.

Ahead of her first event as world No. 1 at the Dubai Tennis Championships yesterday, she insisted that the split was not about money.

"Everyone thinks it was a money-related issue, but it wasn't," the 21-year-old Japanese told reporters at the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel on Sunday.

"For me, that's one of the most hurtful things I've ever heard.

"I travel with everyone on my team, I see them more than my family. I would never do that to them.

"I think my reason is I wouldn't put success over my happiness - because if I'm not happy being around certain people, I'm not going to torture myself.

"I think everyone knows, in Charleston and stuff, I've had moments. That's my main thing."

She was referring to a low point last year, a third-round loss in Charleston that followed her first career title at Indian Wells. Then, she woke up the previous day feeling "depressed" and was not sure why.

She added in comments to WTA Insider on Sunday: "If I'm not waking up every day happy to practise and happy to be around the people I'm around, this is my life, I'm not going to sacrifice that just to keep a person around. I have to be happy with where I am at my life."

She did not want to say "anything bad" about the 34-year-old German Bajin because she was "really grateful for all the things that he's done".

The three reigning Slam holders have now all parted ways with their coaches, for different reasons:

•French Open champion Simona Halep with Thierry van Cleemput because "we are not a good fit together... on court, the chemistry is not there".

•Wimbledon winner Angelique Kerber with Wim Fissette because of "differences of opinion on the future of the alignment".

But Osaka's decision is not sudden. She said: "It was kind of brewing in Australia. I think some people could see that if they saw how we interacted."

For her, the main reason was to change the energy of the team.

The WTA quoted her as saying: "Everyone around me is really good at change and adapting.

"You kind of have to do that to be around me. If you're not, then it gets a little bit tough."

Her team in Dubai include her father Leonard Francois, fitness trainer Abdul Sillah, trainer Kristy Stahr and Japanese coach Masashi Yoshikawa.

She said: "Yoshikawa-san is not really my coach-coach. He's just been helping me since I was 16.

"He's one of the people who knows my game the most. He's always around at certain tournaments, he's always helping.

"I thought it would be a good idea for him to come here since I'm sort of stuck right now."

Osaka will start her search for a coach after Dubai. Asked what qualities she is looking for, she said she wanted someone with a positive mindset and who is also direct.

She added: "I don't want someone that's in the box saying negative stuff. That would be the worst.

"Yeah, someone that's kind of direct, not afraid to say things to my face. I'd rather someone say it directly to me than go around my back. That's one of the biggest things."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2019, with the headline Osaka won't put success over happiness. Subscribe