At the heart of Naomi Osaka's success

At the heart of Naomi Osaka's success

NEW YORK – It's the biggest day in Naomi Osaka's life.

She will play her first Grand Slam final in a few hours. And she can not eat a bite. She can not even go near anything that smells like food. The mere thought of it can be handed over. She woke up and saw that she was sweating through her shirt. She spent hours calling up and down her hotel room, repeatedly calling on her sister Mari, who was trying to make her see the finale as just another game.

"I shouted at them and said, 'What do you mean by another match? It's a grand slam final and it's Serena!' Naomi recalls her unique way of remembering conversations.

But how is it that Osaka, who had had nothing to eat a few hours earlier, came to the court for the final – and with the controversy surrounding it – was done to beat her opponent? And not just any opponent.

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If you followed her on the main stage last year, that may not make sense. Off the court, she shies away from people and conversation; she is self-admittedly nerdy and loves to play video games until the wee hours of the morning; she gets nervous before big matches. She apologizes very much. She goes into random train of thought and calls her brain weird. She is shy and funny, especially at press conferences.

"She's such a perfectionist that she is too overwhelmed and too hard on herself, so I have to be the contrast," said Sascha Bajin, Osaka coach and former stars' shooter (Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki) to call), told reporters earlier this year. "If it's too negative, I have to go and say, 'It's okay, the earth is round, the grass is green.' And we keep moving, but in general it's more with it busy even when she should be … For a 20-year-old to remain so modest … I mean, we went to the movies to celebrate the victory of Indian Wells. "

There is a sense of calm on the square. She loves when 20,000 people watch her point by point and when fans scream words of support. It thrives when the crowd is against it. Everything motivates her to play her best tennis.

"I'm not an attention seeker," says Osaka. "But when I play tennis, I feel like I'm really good and something I know – not that it's a talent, but that I've been working on it for so long – I want people to watch."

This paradox has worked for Osaka so far and it will also make them become one of the biggest stars of tennis.

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2018 US Open Champion Naomi Osaka joins the ESPN to break her point of view during Serena Williams's argument with the chair's referee.

Two hours after their 6-2, 6-4 victory against Williams, Osaka went into the players' lounge, US Open trophy in hand, looked dazed and clearly overwhelmed by the number of reporters and organizers who are ready to pepper the pepper she with questions. Bajin, who has just received his own US Open trophy (the victorious player's coach receives it later in the day), runs around and shows his prize. "My trophy is here," he says aloud. She looks at him and smiles.

"Usually not – no offense, people – I do not like being surrounded by people," she says.

When a journalist asked her if she was worried about what her idol Serena would think of her after she beat her a second time this year, Osaka said, "Oh God, I never thought so." I hope Serena is not mad at me or something.

"Is not it like raising a child? The child grows up with you and then you look at the kid like:" Wow, I'm proud of you, "and then you cook something in the kitchen and then you come the child suddenly and cooks better than you. I do not know … "She leaves. "I am sorry." (And it was not the first time she apologized during the round table conversation.)

Even during the award ceremony after her victory regretted one of her first words. "I know that everybody cheered [Serena] and I am sorry it had to end like this. "

But Osaka's ability to break up so early in her career was one of the factors that led her to her first career Grand Slam title. After her stellar appearance in Indian Wells in March, when she dropped just one set to win her first major tournament, Osaka had a small break-in and lost in three consecutive games (in Washington DC, Montreal and Cincinnati) the US Open , She remembered crying in the locker room after every match because she thought she was a lousy tennis player.

But she said she must be unsuccessful again. She had to let go of the past and just do what she does best – "Beat the tennis ball while having fun," she says.

Then she arrived in the open.

Even before she hit a single ball in Flushing Meadows, experts and coaches expected her to make a breakthrough soon. Tsuyoshi Yoshitani, a sports reporter from Kyodo News predicted that Osaka would become the first Japanese to win a Grand Slam. Kei Nishikori told reporters at the beginning of the tournament that Osaka was playing great tennis and could beat the top players.

"I've met Serena for almost eight years almost every day, and Naomi's weapons are just as big," Bajin said during a press conference before the event. "She's not afraid of the stage either and that's why I think she's big in her."

During their quarterfinal match against Aryna Sabalenka, Osaka showed with her hands and mumbled after a break in the second set 2-1. She was obviously angry that she had made several forehand errors. Fans started to leave Louis Armstrong Stadium. But Osaka followed to recapture Sabalenka 2: 2 and went on to win the set (and match) 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

Before becoming Naomi Osaka's coach in December, Sascha Bajin was the beating partner for some of tennis's biggest stars, including Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki. Harry How / Getty pictures

Against Madison Keys in the semifinals, saved Osaka 13 points and beat the American in straight sets.

"You keep fighting, trying to get the breakpoint, and then it's hard for them to take some of the shots," Keys said after losing Osaka. "But you're in that match and you think, 'OK, she'll fade sometime.'" She did not, so … thanked her for being a first semi-finalist on a big stage and all that was It was really impressive, she kept her nerves all the time, never really had a slip-up. "

During the final against Williams, Osaka said she thought to herself, "What would Serena do?" Whenever she took a shot. She was also realistic about her expectations. She said to herself, "It's not over yet, just because I'm leading, Serena's coming back like she's done a thousand times before." She says that through her thought process she has taken every point seriously, because she has not respected the greatest athlete who has ever played this sport.

It's stupid to make comparisons, but Osaka makes you feel the way you see Williams. It's not over until the players shake hands. If Osaka has fallen on Matchday 15:40, you still think, "She'll do it." When Caroline Wozniacki won the Australian Open in 2018, the headlines said, "That was a surprise." When Simona Halep won the French Open in 2018, experts said: "Finally." Even when Angelique Kerber won Wimbledon in 2018, she still had not won the US Open. But when Naomi Osaka won the US Open in 2018, the experts' immediate response was, "That's it, this is the next star."

However, whether she has a grand slam or 10, Osaka says she will still feel a little uncomfortable going to a press conference. It will be surreal if you hold a trophy and it will feel great playing in front of a large crowd. None of these contradictory things will change only because of a Grand Slam title.

"I'll always stay the same person, I do not know how to be different," she says.

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