Naomi Osaka: When I Hugged Serena At The Net I Felt Like A Little Kid Again

by Tom Gainey | September 8th, 2018, 11:21 pm

Naomi Osaka made history Saturday at the US Open, beating Serena Williams in a controversial final 62, 64 to become the first Japanese man or woman to ever win a Grand Slam event.

The 20-year-old Osaka, who had never won a title 12 months ago, becomes the youngest US Open champion since 19-year-old Maria Sharapova in 2006.

With her power game and solid groundstrokes, Osaka lost just one set all tournament. After the her second straight win, she met the press.

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. How proud are you of ^ yourself in the last game?

NAOMI OSAKA: I think my serve was important in the whole match. She’s such a good returner, and I really felt like I had to hit the spots today.

Q. What were your reactions when everything was happening and you heard Serena shouting against the umpire? How difficult was it for you to keep focused?

NAOMI OSAKA: Well, I didn’t really hear anything because I had my back turned, so I didn’t really know there was anything going on at the moment.

Q. Does it seem somewhat surreal that you are the US Open champion?

NAOMI OSAKA: Uhm, yeah, I mean, it doesn’t really feel that real right now. I think maybe in a few days I’ll realize what I’ve done.

Right now it just feels, like, I don’t know. Aside from the fact there’s a lot of press in this room, it feels just like another tournament.

Q. Do you feel like anything that went on at all spoiled the moment for you, or can you just disregard all the controversy? You seemed upset during the award ceremony.

NAOMI OSAKA: Uhm, yeah, I just feel like I had a lot of emotions, so I had to kind of categorize what was which emotion.

Q. You said you had your back turned, but you couldn’t miss when Serena was really going at the umpire. What were your thoughts at this moment? Are you aware of the same rules that she is about coaching and about smashing a racquet, going after an umpire?

NAOMI OSAKA: Well, I mean, the crowd was really noisy, so I really didn’t hear. Like, I really didn’t hear anything that was going on.

And when I turned around, uhm, it was 5-3, so I was a little bit confused then. But for me, I felt like I really had to focus during this match because she’s such a great champion, and I know that she can come back from any point.

I was just trying to focus on myself at that time.

Q. Can you expand a little bit on what you were saying about your parents during your matches? Your dad comes here but doesn’t actually come to the match? Is that a superstition thing or nerves? What does he do during matches?

NAOMI OSAKA: We don’t really know (smiling). I always thought I should put like a GoPro on him during my matches.

I think he might take long walks, because maybe my matches stress him out or something. But, like, since Indian Wells, since a long time, he’s always, like, come, but he’s always watched my practices and stuff, but he’s never really, like, sat in the box or anything.

Q. I think you acknowledged the crowd one time when you walked out, were pretty focused after that. How important was it for you to block out all of the crowd, the people they were showing on the video board? How were you able to do that in your first Grand Slam final?

NAOMI OSAKA: I think I was able to do that because it was my first Grand Slam final. I felt like I shouldn’t let myself be overcome by nerves or anything, and I should just really focus on playing tennis because that’s what’s gotten me to this point.

So, yeah, I just thought, like, no matter what happens outside of the court, for me, when I step on the court, it’s just about tennis.

Q. Is there one word or one phrase that really summarize this experience of being the US Open champion?

NAOMI OSAKA: Uhm, I guess a different mindset. I feel like coming into this tournament I had a lot of things happen to me, and then now I’m just having fun while I play, so I think that’s always something that I can, like, keep trying to do.

Q. Sascha was interviewed a little while ago. He was asked what one thing he would like to say to you. He said he wanted to thank you for letting him be a part of it. Can you tell us about your relationship with him, what made you choose him?

NAOMI OSAKA: I chose him to work with because he twisted his ankle within the first five minutes of practice. I was like, Yup, this guy right here, he’s going to be great (laughter).

But, no, I mean, if you meet him, then you know that he’s a really nice person, and he’s really positive and upbeat. I think for me that’s really important because, uhm, I tend to be down on myself a lot. That’s one of the main reasons why I chose him.

Q. You said for a long time Serena was always an idol of yours. What happened today in the final, her behavior on the court, does it change the image you had of her?

NAOMI OSAKA: The thing is, like, I don’t know what happened on the court. So for me, I’m always going to remember the Serena that I love. It doesn’t change anything for me. She was really nice to me, like, at the net and on the podium. I don’t really see what would change.

Q. What is your next dream after having achieved this dream?

NAOMI OSAKA: Well, I’m going to Tokyo next, so hopefully to win the tournament there (smiling).

I’m just going to take it one step at a time. I’m not going to really think too far ahead.

Q. On match point, what was going on in your mind? Wasn’t a huge celebration, a quiet walk to the net. What was your reaction?
NAOMI OSAKA: Uhm, well, I was just thinking, I don’t know, like to have a huge reaction isn’t really me in the first place. It just still didn’t really feel that real. So for me it just felt like a normal match just walking up to the net. But it’s Serena that’s on the other side. She hugged me, and it was really awesome (smiling).

Q. Your last is Osaka. You were born in Osaka. Your father is Haitian. How come your last name is the same name of the city? You should have the last name of your father.

NAOMI OSAKA: Are you ready? We’re recycling a joke from 2014.

Everyone who was born in Osaka, their last name is Osaka (laughter).

Q. Is that true?

NAOMI OSAKA: No (laughter).

No, but my mom’s last name is Osaka, her side of the family.

Q. Why did you feel like you needed to apologize for doing what you set out to do?

NAOMI OSAKA: Your question is making me emotional (tearing up).

Okay, because I know that, like, she really wanted to have the 24th Grand Slam, right? Everyone knows this. It’s on the commercials, it’s everywhere. Like, when I step onto the court, I feel like a different person, right? I’m not a Serena fan. I’m just a tennis player playing another tennis player.

But then when I hugged her at the net (tearing up)…

Anyway, when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again.

Q. You said you’re going to Tokyo next. Are you prepared for what the reaction is going to be?

NAOMI OSAKA: Apparently not because people keep asking me that, so…

Q. That’s quite a big paycheck. I’m sure we’d all like it if you shared it, but what’s the plan? Any special presents for yourself, reward for doing this?

NAOMI OSAKA: Uhm, I’m not really the type that spends money on myself. For me, as long as my family’s happy, I’m happy. When I see my sister, because she’s going to Tokyo, too, I think for me that’s the biggest gift.

Q. You said you tend to be down on yourself. Do you think this is going to change the way you view yourself? Do you think maybe you’re going to gain some more confidence out of this?

NAOMI OSAKA: Uhm, I mean, for sure, I think so. I don’t think you can win a Grand Slam and not be confident in yourself.

But that’s not, like, my immediate mindset. I think for me, I just really want to have fun with every match that I play because tennis is a game. But, like, professional tennis players, sometimes I think we lose sight of that, so…

Q. Do you have any posters of Serena in your room, or did you when you were growing up?

NAOMI OSAKA: When I was growing up, I did a whole report on her in third grade. I colored it and everything. I said, I want to be like her (smiling).

Q. Do you still have that?

NAOMI OSAKA: Maybe in like a folder at home or something. I’m not sure.

Q. Plans to celebrate tonight?

NAOMI OSAKA: Sleep (smiling).

I’m not really a social person like that. Maybe I’ll play video games. I don’t know.

Q. Have you ever had a drink?

NAOMI OSAKA: No. I’m 20 (smiling).

THE MODERATOR: Questions in Japanese.

Q. (Question in Japanese.)
NAOMI OSAKA: Yeah, I’m sorry. I don’t think so. My brain’s racing too much.

Like, the paper was sort of like a note to myself. I really didn’t hear the rest of your question.

Q. (Question in Japanese.)
NAOMI OSAKA: Uhm, I feel like it’s a bit similar to Indian Wells, the way things happened. I really just tried to have fun. I knew that going into this match it was going to be really hard, so I just thought that I fought for every match, so I had to just keep fighting for this one.

Q. (Question in Japanese.)
NAOMI OSAKA: I mean, I had fun playing, but I was also very nervous and stressed at the same time. And, yeah, I think growing up, coming here and seeing everyone lift this trophy when I was a kid, I think for sure one of my goals was granted.

Q. (Question in Japanese.)
NAOMI OSAKA: Oh, yes. I’m sorry. Oh, my God, I think so.

Q. (Question in Japanese.)
NAOMI OSAKA: Well, I think when I was playing against her, I really felt like I had to really have a lot of willpower and just know that she can come back, and know that whenever I had an opportunity, I had to go for it.

And I did eat a salmon bagel today. But, I mean, if I could eat whatever I wanted, I really want to meet like tonkatsu, katsudon, or katsu curry, and matcha ice cream.

Q. (Question in Japanese.)
NAOMI OSAKA: I think it’s when the match starts, because during the warmup I was still really nervous. I still, like, could see her. But, like, when the match starts, I don’t really focus too much on the person rather than the ball, so…

Q. (Question in Japanese.)
NAOMI OSAKA: Well, I didn’t even know that she was here. I heard people yelling, and there was, like, the scream. I heard people yelling, but I didn’t want to look up because I didn’t want to, like, see Beyonce or something, start freaking out, Oh, my God, Beyonce is watching my match.

I didn’t even know that she was here.

Q. (Question in Japanese.)
NAOMI OSAKA: Uhm, I think when she broke me, I think trying to get the break back was, for me, the most important thing, when I had to concentrate the most.

I think if she broke me and then she held, then the crowd would definitely be, like, super for her, and she would get very pumped up, which is kind of dangerous. I thought it was really important to break back.

Q. (Question in Japanese.)
NAOMI OSAKA: I haven’t really thought about it. I don’t know. I’ll let my mom decide, I guess.

Q. (Question in Japanese.)
NAOMI OSAKA: Well, I always think it’s fun like that. I think it’s fun when people from different countries cheer. I’ve never really thought too much about it. I think, uhm, I’m very grateful for everyone that did cheer and for everyone that came to the match. It’s not anything that’s been on my mind or something.

Q. (Question in Japanese.)
NAOMI OSAKA: Like what he taught me?

Q. (Question in Japanese.)
NAOMI OSAKA: Important? I mean, it’s not strokes or anything because anyone can teach you strokes. I think what he taught me was mainly how to be more mentally strong. But I think I’ve had a lot of conversations with my dad, and it’s been a really long process. I’m really glad I think I finally understand what he’s talking about, so…

You Might Like:
Naomi Osaka Splits From Coach Sascha Bajin
Naomi Osaka Says No To Wimbledon
Osaka Battles Back On Barty For First Beijing Crown
Naomi Osaka Makes Winning Comeback In Brisbane, Beats Korpatsch
Naomi Osaka Explains Why Sascha Bajin Was Let Go As Coach

Don't miss any tennis action, stay connected with Tennis-X

Get the FREE TX daily newsletter

7 Comments for Naomi Osaka: When I Hugged Serena At The Net I Felt Like A Little Kid Again

chofer Says:

This kid is amazing. And the WTA has found the young champion that has been so elusive for years. You don’t walk out that stormy stadium and reigning chaos as cool and collected as she was. Any other player would have succumbed to the situation.

And, also,has all the shots and an amazing strategic mind. And a serve! (clearly, all of Serena’s best traits, plus she’s mellower off and fiery on the court) Halep, Kerber, et al, move aside. Osaka is coming to get you!

skeezer Says:

Congrats Osaka. So sorry that the ump and the directors mishandled what could have been a fantastic match.
Anyways, it will all blow over and what WILL matter is you have your 1rst Slam title!!

Margot Says:

^ Totally agree.

Margot Says:

PS Hope Naomi gets to be No1 and gets loads and loads of Slams! She has bags of talent and poise.

J-Kath Says:

In the circumstances, a rather unusual article – almost the reverse of rest of media:

Van Persie Says:

Osaka showes, she hast the potential to be Nr. 1.

Yes, Chofer. With her game she was ghis year’s revelation , I would say.
Halep was never very much into the Nr. 1 thing. She just wanted to win an FO. She is not a convincing Nr. 1, for sure, but big hitrers like Muguruza, Pliskova, Kvitova,failed this year to be consistent and to get the job done. Woz also more vocal than constant with her game.

I am very proud of Halep, that she made it to win that GS finally, after that loss at tbe FO last year. I told it here once, she is as fragile as Nishikori phisically and hereby mentally. But she achieved enough given her frailty. She is a top 5 player though.

We could have a battle between Osaka and Sloane for Nr. 1 next year.
I prefer Osaka btw.

Van Persie Says:

Forgot to mention Sabalenka with huge potential

Top story: Tsitsipas Streaks To 10 Straight On Clay, Gets Rematch With Ruud In Barcelona Final