US Open champion Naomi Osaka revealed that the lockdown had helped her mentally and that she came into New York with a clearer mind, which went a long way in helping her clinch her third Grand Slam title.
“I think now after failing, which I guess it’s not a failure, but failing to win a Grand Slam after the Australian Open. It really hurt my feelings a lot,” Osaka told WTA Insider Podcast.
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“I just sort of meditated on it and I told myself if you work as hard as you can, hopefully the results will come. I worked really hard during quarantine and the result came. So I’ll just keep using that method until it fails me again.
“I think in this run, I’m way more grateful. When I was younger, I feel like everything just went really fast and I wasn’t aware of how much work it took to win a Grand Slam.”
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Before the tennis tours were suspended in March due to Coronavirus, the 22-year-old had been struggling for form. Osaka failed to defend her title at the Australian Open, going down to teenager Coco Gauff in the third round.
In her next match, a Fed Cup qualifier against Spain, she lost 0-6, 3-6 to Sara Sorribes Tormo, who was ranked 78 in the world at the time.
this is crazy. pic.twitter.com/r3BBW0Elng
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) September 13, 2020
But since resumption, the Japanese has been making waves, on and off the court. She made it to the finals of the Western & Southern Open before pulling out due to hamstring injury. In the US Open final, she battled back from a set and break down against Victoria Azarenka to win her second title at Flushing Meadows.
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“I was just rethinking all the matches that I lost and the most common thing that I could think of was that I wasn’t positive during any of those matches. I had so many things on my mind,” Osaka said.
“I feel like the quarantine was good for me because I was able to meditate. I was able to think a lot about what I wanted to do. And so I feel like, in a way, it sort of forced me to think about things that I wasn’t really comfortable talking about. And I was able to come here with sort of a clear mind.”
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The Japanese, who rose to world No 3 this week, needed that focus to script a turnaround against Azarenka in the final. The Belarussian came hot off the blocks and completely dominated play in the beginning against an off-pace Osaka. Azarenka, 31, had taken a 6-1, 2-0 lead in just over 30 minutes before Osaka turned it into a contest.
“I feel like tactically I was afraid of her backhand too much in the first set,” said Osaka, who eventually won the match 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.
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“I felt like I was just setting it up for her on the forehand side. Everyone knows Vika’s backhand is amazing. So I felt like maybe I respected it too much. In the second set, when things weren’t going my way early, I just felt like no matter what happens, maybe I should just make it physical.”
The 22-year-old also made an impact off the court, as she used her platform to highlight racial injustice. In each of her seven matches, Osaka wore a mask with a name of an African-American victim, to highlight their plight and get a conversation going.
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“I think what I learned the most is that there are so many things that can be happening outside the court, but once you’re in the court those things don’t matter,” she said.
“You have to focus on what it takes to win.”