Naomi Osaka on her way up with first pro tennis title
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — Naomi Osaka had just won the first title of her career and was waiting to be introduced for her post-match comments.
The 20-year-old from Japan had prepared, knowing what she was going to say and in what order.
But then her name was called.
“I freaked out,” she said. “I just started saying whatever came into my mind first, which is why I think I kept stopping halfway through my sentences, because I just remembered something else I had to say. That was pretty embarrassing.”
The crowd of 18,347 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Sunday seemed to sense Osaka’s nervousness, something she worked hard to hide during a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Daria Kasatkina of Russia in the BNP Paribas Open final.
“I was extremely stressed and extremely nervous,” Osaka said. “But my plan was to, like, fake that I’m very calm.”
As hesitant as she was behind the mic, Osaka was polished and professional in dismantling Kasatkina, a fellow 20-year-old who also enjoyed a surprising run to the final.
Osaka dropped just one set in seven matches, knocking off two-time winner Maria Sharapova, No. 5 Karolina Pliskova and top-ranked Simona Halep against whom she won the last nine games of the match.
She arrived at Indian Wells unseeded because of her No. 44 ranking. She left ranked No. 22 and with a $1.3 million check, nearly double her career earnings.
“I really wanted to win this, but also I just tried to think it was a first-round match and just not psych myself out too much,” Osaka said.
She had made it past the quarterfinals at a WTA event just once before, losing in the final at Tokyo 18 months ago. Now, she’s 15-4 this year.
“I feel like I have made it my goal to be more focused every match this year, so I think it’s paid off,” she said.
Born in Osaka, Japan, to a Haitian father and Japanese mother, she moved to the U.S. as a 3-year-old. She holds dual citizenship, living for a time in New York and now in South Florida while representing Japan in Fed Cup.
“I play now for myself,” she said, “but when I was little, I just played because I wanted to make my mom happy, mainly my mom, and also my dad, for him to be proud.”
Her parents and sister Mari, a tennis player, too, weren’t on hand in California.
Osaka and Kasatkina shared a private jet — their first such ride — to South Florida, where they will play in the Miami Open this week. Osaka faces a first-round match against Serena Williams, her idol growing up.
“I feel like I just started winning,” Osaka said. “It’s a new feeling for me to be this consistent, so I’m just trying to be happy about that.”
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