VAVEL exclusive interview with Naomi Osaka
Osaka competing in Brisbane/Photo: WTA Tour website

In an exclusive interview given only to VAVEL, I sat down with world number three Naomi Osaka as she discussed a number of topics, including a coaching change, her goals for the new season and her thoughts on her peers.

Osaka won her first career title in her native country last fall/Photo: Associated Press
Osaka won her first career title in her native country last fall/Photo: Associated Press

World number three discusses 2019 season

After starting 2019 by winning the Australian Open, Osaka suffered through a slump that saw her go until the end of the year by winning in Osaka and Beijing. I asked her what the up-and-down year was like.

Q. You went through a very interesting 2019. You won your second major in Melbourne and finished the year strong with titles in Osaka and Beijing. In between, there were some struggles. What do you think you learned about yourself through these tough moments?

OSAKA: They say you learn more in defeats than you do in victories and that was probably the case for me. It was a struggle at times, but looking back I wouldn’t change it.

World number one at the time, the Japanese star claimed her second consecutive major title in Melbourne last year/Photo: Mark Schiefelbein
World number one at the time, the Japanese star claimed her second consecutive major title in Melbourne last year/Photo: Mark Schiefelbein

Osaka discusses experience of defending Indian Wells, U.S. Open titles, how it can help in Melbourne

Next, the topic of defending her Australian Open championship came up as the world number three spoke about the experience she gained in what it was like to go through this experience at last year's U.S. Open.

Q: What will it be like defending your Australian Open title? Does it feel any different than trying to defend your U.S. Open title? Did you learn anything about that in New York that you can apply to Melbourne?

OSAKA: The first time I defended a title was Indian Wells last year and that was challenging. I learned a lot from that experience which helped me at the US Open actually. Coming into Melbourne this year, I feel very comfortable as I like the surroundings and the atmosphere. Defending a title means that you have done well at that particular event in the past – therefore you feel good on the surface and in the surroundings. So really I’m just excited to play.

Fissette joins the Osaka camp after spells with several top players/Photo: PA Images
Fissette joins the Osaka camp after spells with several top players/Photo: PA Images

Fissette comes into Osaka camp to begin 2020

After a wildly successful partnership with Sascha Bajin that yielded the number one ranking and two major championships, Osaka split with the Serbian after winning in Melbourne. After going through her father and Jermaine Jenkins the rest of the year, she hired Wim Fissette, former coach of Victoria Azarenka, Angelique Kerber and Johanna Konta.

Q. You hired Wim Fissette to be your new coach. What do you think was the biggest factor in hiring him and what do you feel he brings to your game overall?

OSAKA: He brings a huge amount of experience and a level head. I’m really happy to have him on the team.

Former world number one talks about expectations for season

With Fissette in the fold and a fresh start, Osaka set her targets for 2020 as she began her campaign in Brisbane with a first-round victory over Maria Sakkari.

Q. Do you set goals for yourself? If you do, what are they for 2020? If not, how will you approach the year?

OSAKA: I don’t set goals necessarily but I always want to win every match I play. There’s never a match I go into not believing I’m going to win.

Osaka keys in on what part of her game needs to get back to form of late 2018 to early 2019

With so many weapons at her disposal, it can be hard for Osaka to make the right shot selection at times, as evidenced by her results through most of 2019. I asked her what shots she needs to improve to return to the top of her game.

Q. Is there one shot or aspect of your game that you feel needs to improve in order to get back to the form you showed that carried you to #1 and back-to-back major titles?

OSAKA: Wim and I worked on a few minor things in the off season but I’ll be keeping them private. After the US Open last year, for the Asian swing, I returned to playing more aggressive and positive tennis, which is what my game is all about, and that brought about a change of form.

Osaka and Andreescu could form a rivalry that may very well span the next decade/Photo: AFP
Osaka and Andreescu could form a rivalry that may very well span the next decade/Photo: AFP

22-year old talks about her peers, competing with them for years to come

I concluded the interview by asking Osaka about the other young stars on tour including Bianca Andreescu, Marketa Vondrousova, Amanda Anisimova, Sofia Kenin and Dayana Yastremska, what her relationship with them is and her thoughts on them.

​​​​​​​Q. Finally, there are many great young players on tour. Bianca won a Slam, Marketa made the final at Roland Garros, Amanda made the semifinals, Sofia and Dayana had breakout seasons. Do you see them as rivals? Friends? Is there anything you can observe by watching them play?

​​​​​​​OSAKA: There are lots of great young players at the moment. It’s great for tennis and they’re all from different countries with different personalities. I suppose anyone on the WTA tour is a rival, but I really just focus on my own game and getting better every day.

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