People look at me differently now: Osaka

The Japanese star says the vibe is different since, according to Forbes, she became the highest-paid female athlete

Naomi Osaka hailed her childhood idol Serena Williams

Recently, Naomi Osaka topped the Forbes list of highest-paid female athletes, dethroning Serena Williams who had held the position for the past four years. But for the shy Osaka, who has a Japanese mother and Haitian father, it has resulted in more attention.

“My biggest thing was always being able to provide for my family,” said the two-time Grand Slam champion.

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“That’s why I wanted to win a lot of my matches. It’s a bit weird, because I feel like people are looking at me differently now. Like, I mean, I’m weird, right? So people were always looking at me differently.  But now people are just kind of looking, looking. It’s a different vibe.

“But anyways, I don’t know. I always want to keep growing and expanding, and hopefully it doesn’t stop here. And I have a lot of off-court stuff that I like to do and continue to grow.”

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After a rusty win in her opening match at the Western & Southern Open, Osaka seemed to be in much better form in the round of 16 on Tuesday. She overpowered Dayana Yastremska 6-3, 6-1 in an hour to book her place in the quarterfinal.

Ironing out weaknesses

The 2018 US Open champion said she was still not sure where her level was, coming off from a six-month hiatus, but said that she had worked on her serve, and volley during the lockdown.

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“So for me I always wanted to be the player that if you’re playing against them, you wouldn’t attack their second serve or something like that,” said Osaka.

“I want to be a player where my game doesn’t have any real weakness.

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“I have a one-handed backhand volley now. It’s better because I’m able to like have more feel, which I guess this is why the majority of players have one-handed backhands.”

The 22-year-old, who will once again be one of the favourites going into the Open, also said that she has started feeling more comfortable in the locker room and bigger arenas now.

Getting comfortable

“I would say in the beginning, like even going to tournaments, I was really scared,” she said.

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“I would say ‘scared’ is the right word, because as a kid, it’s kind of nerve-racking to be around professionals and you kind of feel like you’re not supposed to belong there. But, yeah, I feel like I have slowly made a name for myself, and then I was able to win a couple good matches and I got more used to the atmosphere.

“It’s funny, because in the beginning, like the first two years, I wouldn’t even go to the locker room because I was so scared. I was, like, ‘Whoa, I don’t want to be around them.’”