NEW YORK, NY, USA - When BNP Paribas Open champion Naomi Osaka steps to the line to start a point, the battle has sometimes begun before her opponent has even tossed the ball.
"It happens, not in this match, but the match before," the No.20 seed explained on Thursday at the US Open, referencing her first round win over 2017 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix winner Laura Siegemund. "She hit a second serve, right? And in my mind, right before she hits the second serve, I'm thinking, Do not hit this down the line. Don't go for it, right?'
"Then there is another part of me that's, like, 'But if I hit this down the line, there is a 50/50 chance it will be a winner and you could win the point easy.' So when she's serving the ball, it's like, 'Ta, ta, ta, ta, ta,' and I'm arguing with myself: 'Do it, don't do it, do it, don't do it.'
"Then the ball comes and I hit it down the line and it goes in the net. I'm, like, 'Why did I do that?' Yeah, that basically happens a lot."
The chances she has taken are largely paying off this week in Flushing Meadows, striking a combined 38 winners to 42 unforced errors and dropping just seven games in her first two matches over Siegemund and Israeli qualifier Julia Glushko.
Into the third round for a third straight year, the 20-year-old is still trying to strike the balance between risk and reward.
"You win more if you play safe," she wryly admits. "I would say it's fun to take the chances when you're feeling good, like, when you know it's not 50/50, and more like 70/30.
"So I sort of have to hold myself back on the days I don't feel good. That's a little bit hard for me. But I think I'm doing better on that aspect."
Critical to those improvements is coach Sascha Bajin, longtime hitting partner to Osaka's idol Serena Williams and former coach to Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki when the latter won the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global last fall.
"He's helped me a lot," she said on Tuesday. "It's mostly been with myself. Like, I fight myself a lot, so he's sort of been, like, the peacemaker in between.
"I feel like he's a really positive person, and he sort of tells me not to be so hard on myself. So I'm grateful for him for that."
She will likely be even more grateful to end her streak of third round losses in New York after heartbreaking defeats against Madison Keys and Kaia Kanepi. Against Keys, the then-teenager led the future finalist 5-1 in the final set, getting within two points of victory.
"I have had disappointing results, like, two years in a row here. I mean, I don't really think about it like that. For me, if I have a bad match, I try to fix it in the next tournament. So my last match here hasn't really been on my mind. I just try to focus on the current match."
Her next match is against Brisbane International runner-up Aliaksandra Sasnovich, herself in the midst of a career-best run at the US Open, and one of three Belarusians to make the third round at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
"I have played her once in Toray, I think, two years ago," she said of their 2016 meeting in Tokyo, which Osaka won en route to her first WTA final. "I remember she was playing really well, and I managed to win that match in the end, though.
"I don't really know too much about her. I heard that she's funny off the court. But other than that, I don't think we know too much about each other."
Something else making her laugh has been a quote from rapper Nicki Minaj's radio show titled after her latest album, "Queen."
"To Freedom!" Osaka laughs. "I'm sorry. That's too funny to me. I don't know. Like, people just use, like, a video of someone running, and then the audio clip, 'To Freedom!'"
The sometimes self-conscious youngster trails off as she thinks of different variations of the meme.
"Everyone that doesn't know what this means are going to be like, 'What are we talking about?'"
Osaka plays Sasnovich for a spot in the fourth round on Saturday.