Naomi Osaka on her Indian Wells win, beating Serena and her skydiving dreams
Winning her first career title at Indian Wells in March and beating her hero Serena Williams in Miami, Naomi Osaka is having a pretty monumental spring. Ranked No. 21 in the world, the rising tennis star now looks to bring her momentum across the pond for the European swing of the WTA season.
Having lost over the weekend in the first round of the Madrid Open to Zhang Shuai, Osaka is hoping to make a deep run at the upcoming French Open. She's hungry for more tour titles -- if for no other reason than to redo her "cringe-worthy" victory speech from the BNP Paribas Open.
We caught up with the 20-year-old by phone last week while she prepared for the clay-court season. Despite battling some serious technological issues, which resulted in multiple dropped calls and more than a few confusing moments, Osaka handled it like a pro and talked about her achievements, her future goals, that speech and her skydiving dreams.
espnW: You've had such a great season so far. What's been your favorite moment?
Naomi Osaka: Winning Indian Wells has been the biggest thing so far for me. No one really plays a tournament expecting not to win, but after I played in the quarterfinals [against Karolina Pliskova], and at that point I had played so many types of players at that tournament, I felt like I was really in solid position to win it all. Playing against some really good players in the beginning helped me a lot with my confidence.
espnW: You gave a pretty memorable victory speech after winning the title, and called it "the worst speech of all time." Do you still feel that way about it?
Osaka: Yeah. I don't ever want to watch it. I haven't seen it. But I can just remember it in my mind, and it was totally different than what I thought I was going to say. I've had some people come up to me since and mention it, and it's really, really, really cringe-worthy.
espnW: How would you do it differently at your next win?
Osaka: I would definitely stick to the script more and not waver as much as I did there. I was so nervous. I get nervous speaking in front of people, and that was definitely the biggest crowd that I've ever had to speak in front of.
espnW: What's been the best or strangest thing that's happened to you since you won at Indian Wells?
Osaka: People notice me more now. But I haven't had anything really crazy happen or anything.
espnW: Now that you have a tour title under your belt and you're ranked just outside the Top 20, do you feel more pressure as you enter a tournament?
Osaka: I haven't played that many tournaments since then, honestly, so it's tough to assess how I feel. But even if I hadn't won at Indian Wells, I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself anyway so I'm really used to that feeling by now.
espnW: You beat Serena Williams in the opening round at Miami. You've talked publicly about her being your childhood hero. What was playing against, and beating her, like?
Osaka: Above everything, it was just such an honor to play against her. She was the reason I started playing tennis as a kid in the first place. I was really happy to have that opportunity. At the net, she said "Congratulations" and "Nice match" and that kind of thing, but I was really in such shock, I have no idea if she said anything else. It was surreal.
espnW: How are you feeling about your clay-court game entering this portion of the season?
Osaka: I haven't really played this European swing all that much previously, and I'm still a little bit new to the tour, so I can't say too much about how I feel about clay. I don't know if I like it more or less than hardcourt, but I've been practicing really hard. I feel good to go.
espnW: What are your goals for the rest of the year?
Osaka: Going into this year, I didn't really have many goals. I thought for sure I wanted to win a tournament, and thankfully I've already done that. So I think I just want to continue moving forward, and not think too much about the past. I just want to think of ways I can constantly improve myself and my game. I try to just think about the next match and the next tournament. With long-term goals for me, they always feel so far away so I have a hard time with that. I try to keep my mind busy with shorter-term goals.
espnW: You've become known for your hilarious one-liners and offbeat sense of humor during your press conferences and interviews. Do you now feel like you have to always be funny?
Osaka: For me, I sort of, I don't know who I am. [Laughing] Sometimes I have to think and tell myself to be serious. People tell me that I'm a little bit sarcastic, and I think I'm a little unfocused sometimes when people are talking to me about serious things. So I think more than trying to be funny, I try to be more serious when possible.
espnW: I know you and your coach Sascha Bajin have been doing a lot of awesome off-court activities around the globe this year. What's been your favorite one so far, and what makes getting away from the court so important?
Osaka: Recently, just a few days ago actually, we rented ATVs in Croatia. That was really fun for me. It's important for me to do those types of things because it helps me relax and not think about tennis for awhile. And it definitely helps, and makes it more fun, to do it with your team. It's a bonding experience.
espnW: You've done everything from zip-lining over Dubai to sand surfing. What is something you've yet to do but want to?
Osaka: Well, I would love to do this, but I probably would never actually do it because of safety, but I would like to try skydiving. I'm just worried about how that would turn out. I think it would be fun though.
espnW: Aside from your daredevil adventures, what else do you like to do in your free time?
Osaka: I love to play Playstation, and play a lot of online games, and I love to read a good book. I just finished re-reading "Heir Apparent." I've read it at least five times. I first read it when I was 15, and you know how there are stories about people that go into video games? It's one of those, but it's the first one I read like that, so I found it really interesting. I thought the story was just really good.
espnW: What's something you wish people knew about you?
Osaka: My normal face looks really mean, but I'm not actually a mean person! I tend to just stare, and I don't really know that I'm doing it, but I guess I just stare directly at people. And everyone is always telling me to smile and stuff. So I assume I just look a little bit intimidating.
espnW: Well, at least you have a good game face for matches, right?
Osaka: Yeah, but that is not really all that helpful in social situations!