While Naomi Osaka has disclosed she sometimes channels Serena Williams, the Japanese's coach Sascha Bajin has told wtatennis.com how he would rather the 20-year-old “finds her own way” on the Wimbledon grass.
When Osaka is down in a service game, she occasionally tries to imagine what her childhood idol Williams, a winner of seven Wimbledon singles titles, would do in that situation: “Serena could probably hit a few aces and get herself out of trouble.”
But Bajin, who was previously Williams' hitting-partner, is of the view Osaka should seek to leave her own footprints on the lawns, or wherever else she is playing. “I haven't spoken to her about [channeling Serena]. I want her to find her own way," he said. "She's her own person. I believe that if you step in someone else's footprints, you don't leave your own behind. Though if that's something that helps her, that's fine.”
Martina Navratilova, a columnist for wtatennis.com, is among those who sees similarities between the powerful games of Williams and Osaka, who on Saturday plays Germany's Angelique Kerber, with Osaka attempting to reach the second week of Wimbledon for the first time.
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With so many of the highest seeds already out of this year's Wimbledon - only two of the top 10 remained after Friday's play - Bajin said these are “exciting times” for the women's game. “I do believe that it's anyone tournament to take at this stage. I think everyone thinks that anyone can beat anyone. In the locker-room, people don't really talk about the seeds losing, but of course you sense more excitement that some new faces and new names are breaking through. That's always exciting,” said Bajin.
“I think it goes back to when Jelena Ostapenko won the French Open last year and then Sloane Stephens won the US Open. All these different players are coming through, and then with Naomi winning Indian Wells this year, they see that really anybody can beat anybody on any given day. And that encourages other players to do well because they're thinking, 'If she can do it, I can too'. That's what makes these such exciting times for women's tennis.”
One of Bajin's tasks is to keep Osaka focused on her match against Kerber - the most dangerous thing the No.18 seed can do is look too far into the future. “We don't speculate on anything. We just look one round ahead and to our next opponent and try to finish that in a good way. You try to get the win and only then do you see what's next.
"We don't start thinking, 'Oh my god, I hope she loses, and then this could happen and then that could happen, and we will get that player instead',” Bajin said. “I believe that if Naomi really wants to be the best, she needs to beat the best. She always like to play the bigger names rather some of these girls that maybe people haven't heard of. She likes the big stage.”
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Osaka certainly has a notable opponent in Kerber, the runner-up to Williams in 2016, and the only former finalist left in the top half of the draw. “It's going to be competitive. Kerber's a fighter,” said Bajin. “Kerber's not going to give it to Naomi. Naomi really has to go for the win. She has to play well and finish it.
"I expect a tough battle. Ultimately, I do believe that it will be up to Naomi. As long as she stays within herself and doesn't make too many errors, I believe she will win.”