Australian Open 2019: 'Frightening' Wimbledon won't daunt Naomi Osaka's hopes of a 'Serena Slam' of her own

With two hard-court Grand Slam titles in the bag, Osaka will now be aiming to shine on clay at the French Open and on grass at Wimbledon

Paul Newman
Melbourne
Sunday 27 January 2019 13:04
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Naomi Osaka finds the prospect of playing on grass “a little bit frightening” but sees no reason why she cannot win Wimbledon.

“I’ve always felt like I could be an all-court player,” the 21-year-old Japanese said here in the wake of her Australian Open triumph. “The first time I played all the Grand Slams I got to the third round in all of them.”

By beating Petra Kvitova 7-6, 5-7, 6-4 in a high-quality final here on Saturday night Osaka became the first woman since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to follow up her maiden Grand Slam title by winning again in the following tournament. Osaka, who had beaten Serena Williams in last year’s US Open final, will become the youngest world No 1 for nine years on Monday.

With two hard-court Grand Slam titles in the bag, Osaka will now be aiming to shine on clay at the French Open and on grass at Wimbledon. She admits that the thought of doing a “Naomi Slam” – Williams twice completed a “Serena Slam” by holding all four Grand Slam titles at the same time without winning them in the same calendar year - has crossed her mind. The only other women who have performed the feat are Maureen Connolly (1953), Margaret Court (1970), Martina Navratilova (1985) and Steffi Graf (1988).

Until her victory in New York four months ago Osaka had felt that last summer’s Wimbledon tournament had offered her the best opportunity to win her first Grand Slam title. “I thought I would possibly have a chance at Wimbledon, but then [Angelique] Kerber destroyed me,” she said.

Osaka has gone out in the third round at Wimbledon in both of her appearances. She lost to Venus Williams, five times a champion at the All England Club, two years ago and then took only six games off Kerber, the eventual champion, last summer.

“I see people slide and slip [on grass] and it’s a little bit frightening for me,” Osaka said. “I just think I have to change my mentality.”

Osaka has played at Roland Garros three times. She lost in the third round to Simona Halep in 2006, to Alison van Uytvanck in the first round in 2017 and to Madison Keys in the third round last year.

“I think mentally I don’t like clay,” she said. “I always tell myself I don’t like clay. I never really embrace anything about it and I think that’s something I have to change. The same goes for grass courts.”

Becoming world No 1 will put extra burdens on Osaka’s shoulders. Kerber and Karolina Pliskova are among recent world No 1s who have not enjoyed the extra responsibilities it has brought, including additional media commitments.

When it was put to Osaka that she might be expected to be a spokesman for women’s tennis as world No 1 she grimaced.

Osaka claimed her second Grand Slam title 

“Of course being No 1 is something that you dream about as a kid,” she said. “To be in this position feels a bit weird because I feel like all my life I’ve been chasing people and chasing after the rankings. It is a bit strange when you say it like that, for it to be a leadership position.

“I know if you’re No 1 it’s very difficult because people expect you to win all the time and you also have really hard matches because everyone wants to beat you. I feel like you should ask me this after my first match [as world No 1].”

Osaka said that winning back-to-back Grand Slams was more important to her than becoming world No 1. “Ranking has never been my No 1 priority,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to win Grand Slams. As a kid, Grand Slams were always more important to me than No 1.”

Before the US Open final last year Osaka admitted that she had been a bundle of nerves. She had slept badly the night before, had been unable to eat and had phoned her sister in Paris just before going out on court in the hope that she could help calm her down.

Osaka has her eyes on more Grand Slam success 

“This time I was really nervous too, but not as bad,” Osaka said. “Before the match I felt fine, but I didn’t sleep well. I woke up at 5.30. but it was better than New York. In New York I woke up at 3 and I was sweating.”

Four of Osaka’s last five matches here went to three sets, demonstrating her mental strength. She made a rapid turnaround from the gloom she had felt in the first week of the new season in Brisbane, where she admitted she had not given 100 per cent effort in a straight-sets loss to Lesia Tsurenko.

“After the Tsurenko match I had this dark cloud over me and I felt like I couldn’t do anything about it until my next match,” she said. “I just thought that that feeling was very ‘icky’ and I didn’t really want to have regrets like that any more.”

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