When Naomi Osaka met Iga Swiatek for dinner at the 2020 Australian Open in Melbourne, she had once advice: stay in the game. The 19-year-old from Poland, who had just finished high school and was exploring academic options, stunned the world by winning the French Open in September.
“I would say I was really inspired by Iga,” Osaka told reporters during media day ahead of the Australian Open.
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Swiatek was the break out star of 2020.
She entered the French Open ranked 54 in the world and finished it as the lowest-ranked champion in Roland Garros history. Swiatek also became the only the second unseeded player, since Jelena Ostapenko in 2017, to win the French Open crown.
"I feel tennis is very interesting because it's like a video game where you can select a character and everyone's different. We all have our different strengths and weaknesses."
Game on, @naomiosaka 🎮 🎾 #AusOpen #AO2021
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 31, 2021
Playing smart and hitting confidently, Swiatek blew the competition out of the water. She didn’t drop more than five games in any of her seven matches during the fortnight – including the final where she beat the Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin 6-4, 6-1.
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“I thought it was really amazing how she was able to be super focused in all her matches. I was watching the finals,” added the three-time Grand Slam champion.
“I thought it was really nice to watch because I ate dinner with her last year here. She was talking about how she might go to college. I was telling her, like, she’s really good, and I think she’s going to do really well, so maybe don’t try to divert your energy to college just yet. I’m glad she was able to win a Grand Slam so fast. Hopefully she’ll continue to grow, which I know she will.”
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Osaka has not competed on the tour since winning the 2020 US Open. The 23-year-old, who famously loves her video games, was also fascinated with the depth in women’s tennis.
“There’s so many interesting new people. I think I’m one of the new people,” she said. “As long as Serena’s here, I think she’s the face of women’s tennis.”
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“I feel tennis is very interesting because it’s like a video game where you can select a character and everyone’s different. We all have our different strengths and weaknesses. I think that’s what’s really unique about it.
“For me, I find it really fun to watch everyone else play because I personally watch them. I’m like, Oh, I would have gone for this shot, but they do something different. It’s something that I learned from.”