INDIAN WELLS, USA - 20-year-old Naomi Osaka showed poise beyond her years during and after her 6-4, 6-4 first-round defeat of two-time champion Maria Sharapova at the BNP Paribas Open on Wednesday night. After letting an early break lead go in both sets, Osaka was able to fend off the Russian's game attempts at a comeback to secure another marquee win.
The win was a notable one not just because of the opponent but also in how Osaka responded to adversity. After Sharapova was able to come back from a break to level each set at 4-4, Osaka did not crumble as she may have done in the past.
"I feel like I tried a lot to change the way I think," Osaka told reporters. "I think before, maybe if she came back from that, I feel like I would have gotten really upset. I'm really happy I was able to win and change the way my mentality works.
"I was just thinking that I would be really disrespectful to start getting angry. I'm playing against Sharapova. Who do I think I am to start getting angry playing against her? Everyone knows that she fights for every point so I was just trying to tell myself that if I fight for every point too then it would be an equal match, and then it would sort of depend on physical ability."
"I feel like everyone to a point should have respect for the other person because it's the best players in the world. I feel like no one wants to cheer for a person that's like slamming their racquet everywhere and stuff. A part of that is having respect for the person and also respect for the game. I've never seen someone get angry and do well except for McEnroe, but I'm not really trying to do that. No offense or anything. I'm just trying to keep it in."
Osaka's reverence for her idols has always been evident. Ahead of matches against Venus Williams last year, she admitted to the nerves of playing against one of the women who inspired her to play the sport. After notching her win over Sharapova, Osaka told the crowd it was an honor to play another one of her idols.
"There's basically three people I wanted to play: It was Venus, her, and Serena," Osaka said. "I ticked two people off so now I just have to play Serena and I'm really looking forward to that."
In fact, Osaka has been more than a spectator in her showdowns against Venus and Sharapova. In the last six months she has now tallied wins over each of them, haven beaten Venus in Hong Kong last fall.
"To a certain degree, it's hard because it feels weird seeing someone on TV and then seeing them in real life. But also when you feel like you want to prove yourself and you want to be at the level that you are, there are some matches you have to win, and to sort of get respect from other people. After a little bit, you can't see them as themselves. You have to see them as another person that's stopping you from going to the next round."
Asked for her first memory of seeing Sharapova play, Osaka highlighted the many Serena-Sharapova showdowns over the years.
"To be fair I watched Sharapova play against Serena and I'm sorry but I was always rooting for Serena," Osaka said with a laugh. "I just remember being really impressed by her because you would never know what she was thinking because she never really got upset. She was always fighting. I always thought that was really cool. So I always thought if someone could combine her mentality with Serena's that would be really awesome. So I actually take a lot from her and I try to learn from her too.
"People say they can't read my face or whatever. I don't really know what that means, but I try to be more cool, but sometimes I'm very emotional so sometimes it comes out. But for the most part, I try to be a little bit more inwards."
Osaka's path gets no easier in the second round. She'll face the crafty Agnieszka Radwanska on Friday.