INDIAN WELLS, USA - Naomi Osaka sits down with WTA Insider after her breakthrough week at the BNP Paribas Open, where she capped off a stunning run to her first ever professional title by defeating Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-2 in Sunday's final. En route to the title, Osaka dropped just one set and scored straight-set wins over No.1 Simona Halep, No.5 Karolina Pliskova, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Maria Sharapova.
The 20-year-old from Japan became the first unseeded champion in Indian Wells since Kim Clijsters in 2005 and the youngest Premier Mandatory champion since Caroline Wozniacki won Beijing in 2010. On Monday she will rise to a career-high No.22 in the rankings, making her the highest-ranked Japanese players since Ai Sugiyama in February 2007.
That's a lot of information to take in for the soft-spoken Osaka.
WTA Insider: It seems like you're still soaking it all in.
Osaka: Yeah, partially that. And partially it still doesn't feel that real. I feel like the tournament is still going. I don't know, maybe when I go on the plane maybe I'll realize what just happened. But right now I'm just walking around and doing stuff.
WTA Insider: You had not won a WTA or ITF title before today. So this is your first professional title. Does that add to the newness of the situation today?
Osaka: Yeah, I've never won a title before so I'm really glad I was able to do it today. It does feel new, because I don't feel the sadness after losing (laughs).
WTA Insider: Do you remember the last title you won? Maybe on the juniors or a nationals tournament?
Osaka: When I played the WTA Rising Stars Invitational, I don't know if that counts as a title. Maybe when I played a women's open or a Super Cs when I was 13. But other than that, I don't really remember.
WTA Insider: How pleased are you that you were able to win this title with the tough draw that you had?
Osaka: I'm really happy about this. I feel like I've been here for a month. It feels like I've been here so long. I haven't done much outside of coming to site and training. Every match that I've played I've thought, just don't give up no matter what, because everyone I played was super tough. I feel like that's really helped me and my mentality of coming to the finals and eventually winning. So I'm really grateful for the experience.
WTA Insider: How huge were those first two matches against Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska, getting them in straight sets against two different types of opponents, that had to be a boost to your confidence.
Osaka: I didn't necessarily go way up. I was just glad that I had two different styles. I had a power player in the first round and a returner in the second round. So I think that prepared me for anything coming up. I think that really helped me. Going forward in the tournament and playing the next players, it was a good experience.
WTA Insider: Throughout the week, you've been using the word "consistent" a lot, with respect to your game. Your desire to be more consistent. What does that mean to you?
Osaka: It means that I'm not giving away free points. I'm not going to slap a ball when it's not there. Just to have good matches throughout the entire year and not be as much of a rollercoaster.
WTA Insider: The power game has always been what grabbed people's attention when it came to your game. The shots were always there, but it seems like there's been an evolution to be a more consistent player. When did you make that intentional change to your game?
Osaka: I would say it started this year. In the off-season I was trying to get fit so I could play long rallies all of the time. So I think that really paid off. This year I just really try to respect every opponent I play because I know they're good players and I shouldn't get angry when I play them. I should just focus on what I'm doing and be happy that I get to play these events.
WTA Insider: You said in your press conference that your goal in today's final was to sit back a little bit and see what Kasatkina was doing and then just respond. In a lot of ways you beat her at her own game.
Osaka: I didn't really think about it like that. I'm happy that I was able to win it without trying to be aggressive, because for me when I'm trying to be aggressive there's a 50/50 chance the ball might fly. So I'm glad that happened. I'm just trying to pay more attention to my mental state more than the actual hitting of the ball now.
WTA Insider: So what does this two-week title run in Indian Wells mean to you?
Osaka: Well it says that I'm able to play a lot of matches and still have the concentration, which is the main thing I was focusing on. And also that there are a lot of good young players and we're climbing our way up the rankings.
Bonus: The best lines from a week of Naomi Osaka press conferences:
Q. You joked that it was the worst acceptance speech of all time. None of us could stand in the middle of a stadium and give a speech. How does it feel after that big of a win, all the emotions, and having to give a speech?
NAOMI OSAKA: Well, the thing is I prepared and everything, and I knew what I was going to say in which order. But then when he called me, I freaked out. And then I just started saying whatever came into my mind first, which is why I think I kept, like, stopping halfway through my sentences, because I just remembered something else I had to say. So, yeah, that was pretty embarrassing.
Q. Winning becomes a habit, but to get there, there are other things that you have to do along the way. Your own day-to-day habits become more consistent. What would you say those are that are working for you?
NAOMI OSAKA: Well, I mean, I'm a little bit superstitious, which is weird, because today -- okay. Usually in the morning I eat the same breakfast, like, every time. But then today they brought me sourdough toast instead of wheat. I freaked out a little bit, but I still ate it. And then I was thinking, if I lose this match because of the sourdough toast, I'm going to be really upset (smiling).
Q. You didn't celebrate that match when you won even though you just beat No. 1. Is that because it's not over yet or just if you show your joy too much it would be disrespectful to her?
NAOMI OSAKA: Well, when I was playing the match, I was thinking, Okay, when I win, I'm going to throw my racquet and just be super happy. But then I was thinking I didn't want to think that while I was playing, because then, if I started losing, I would get extremely angry.
I mean, I saw Dasha. She threw her racquet, right? Yeah. And I was going to be, like, I'm going to be that extra. Maybe I'll even cry a little bit just to soak it in. But I didn't. I was just sort of more relieved that it was over.
And then by that -- like, the time that it took for me to realize that I won, I couldn't throw my racquet because it's been, like, a good 10 seconds. So I just went to the net, because I feel like celebrating in a crazy way is, yeah, it's a little bit disrespectful to her, I think.
Q. Do you ever have the opposite experience where you think we laugh at the wrong moments when you're being serious?
NAOMI OSAKA: Every day (smiling).
Like, sometimes I would legit say something with, like, all my heart at, like, somebody I'm talking to, and they would just start laughing. I'm just, like, What are you doing?
But, yeah, I mean, I think it's because my face is, like -- I don't smile when I'm saying it. So I think they think I'm either serious all the time or I'm just joking.
Q. Speaking of the Internet and you were talking about memes the other day, if you were to pick a meme to describe your two weeks so far in Indian Wells, what would it be?
NAOMI OSAKA: Okay. Here we go.
Hmm. Oh, the Drake's "God's Plan" one. The one where it just says "God's Plan" starts playing. That one, if any of you guys -- I bet you don't know what I mean, but that's okay.
Q. Last time you told me that you're more concerned about being the first to do something rather than match someone else's record. You're the first woman from Japan to make a semifinal at a premier tournament?
NAOMI OSAKA: I mean, I'm happy, but also I feel like it's cooler to go to the finals and win it, so I'm going to try to do that.
But yeah. I mean, I feel like I want to break records for male and female. I'm coming for Kei.
Q. Did you get to see any of Taro Daniel's win over Djokovic or what did you make of that?
NAOMI OSAKA: I saw the first set. I was playing a video game on my computer, looked back. He was winning the third set. It was 4-1. I went to do something, like, for five minutes. I look back and he won. I was, like, what happened?
It's kind of weird, because I can talk to him on Twitter, but I can't talk to him in real life, because literally he would be coming and I would be, like (nodding head) and then we would just pass. I think -- I don't know. I tried to say congratulations, but all I did was (nodding head). Like, I don't understand. But other than that, good job for him.
Q. What's the best part of being a 20-year-old on the WTA Tour who's winning?
NAOMI OSAKA: Can't relate (smiling). I don't know.I feel like I just started winning. Like, it's a new feeling for me to be this consistent. So I'm just trying to be happy about that.