Naomi Osaka: weird, wonderful and winning

Published by Matt Trollope

The more Naomi Osaka wins, the more the world is getting to know this kooky, quirky talent taking the women’s tour by storm.

Osaka has been a hit on court this fortnight at Indian Wells, cutting a swathe through the draw and delighting fans with her off-beat interviews, hilarious press conferences and antics on social media.

She freely acknowledges she’s a bit different; she discussed at length her social awkwardness in an episode of the WTA Insider podcast last year. Host Courtney Nguyen called her “the most refreshing voice in tennis twitter”.

But she’s also a respectful, thoughtful, gracious player; the following on-court interview from the Australian Open perfectly exemplifies this.

She’d just beaten local star Ash Barty but charmed the Margaret Court Arena crowd by apologising for winning and expressing her gratitude for the atmosphere.

And she kept the interviewer on his toes in the process …

Many tennis players resort to cliches when faced with a microphone just seconds after finishing a match, but Osaka has a rather refreshing take on match analysis.

Her on-court, post-match interviews may be amusing. But they’re overshadowed by her press conferences, where she has the time and space to go into detail.

On this occasion? She’s discussing compatriot Taro Daniel’s upset win over Novak Djokovic, and the painfully awkward encounter she had when attempting to congratulate him …

Credit to Naomi: she finally built up the courage and interacted with Taro in person.

One thing that’s notable about Osaka’s press conferences are their open, honest, candid nature. She talks about her mental battles and how she works to overcome them. She freely admits which players she looks up to, respects and admires. And she’ll reveal which players she wants to play.

All of those topics were addressed in an absorbing media appearance after her first-round defeat of Maria Sharapova at Indian Wells.

In 2016, while playing in Hobart, Osaka said she needed to work on calming her nerves. “Every time someone hits the ball to me I freak out a little bit,” she said.

Extraordinary. But then again, it makes sense judging on how she approached this ‘tweener. Poor Naomi had no idea what to do.

Thankfully, help was at hand. Fellow young gun Daria Kasatkina, herself quite adept at playing the shot, tried to teach Osaka how to master the ‘tweener. There were plenty of laughs in the process …

But when you can smack serves and belt groundstrokes like Osaka, a ‘tweener may not be even be a necessary weapon in her arsenal.

Another skill she’s trying to master is speaking Japanese.

Osaka was born in the city of the same name and represents Japan (her mother’s country of origin), while her father is Haitian and she was raised in the United States.

She understands Japanese but is much more comfortable speaking English. As a result, we get these entertaining hybrid-language interviews where the Japanese media and English-speaking Osaka try to meet in the middle …

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