TORONTO, Canada - There is no WTA handbook on how to handle the pressure and the spotlight of being a major champion and former No.1, and 21-year-old Naomi Osaka wouldn't have it any other way.
The reigning US Open and Australian Open champion has been been an open book when it comes to processing the collateral effect of her meteoric rise to the top of the women's game, and as the tour returned to her favorite hardcourts, it was time for another update.
Ahead of her first hardcourt event of the summer at the Rogers Cup, Osaka took to Twitter to post a message to her fans, giving insight into her mindset throughout the clay and grass season, in hopes of turning the page.
“I actually wanted to post something like that before French and Wimbledon, because for me it’s sort of a way of opening a new chapter," Osaka said at All Access Hour ahead of the Rogers Cup, where she has an opportunity to retake the No.1 ranking. "I like writing things down because it helps me organize my thoughts, and posting it lets people know where I am in my headspace. "So for me, there’s nothing negative that would come out of that, especially if I’m going into it with good intentions and I feel like what I’m saying is what I truly feel.”
I’ll leave this here just in case you feel like reading a book lol. pic.twitter.com/UD512lBRP1
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@Naomi_Osaka_) August 1, 2019
When it comes to rediscovering her joy on court, Osaka said it's been a process throughout her career. The stakes have always felt high, regardless of whether she was in the spotlight or not.
"In the beginning, I really wanted to win because that's how I need to get my family out of, like, I want my family to be comfortable," Osaka said. "So whenever I lost I thought it was the end of the world. I'm pretty sure a lot of tennis players feel that way.
"Now it's a bit different. When I lose it's the end of the world because I'm supposed to be the best - I mean, I'm not anymore. I thought [not being No.1] would take the pressure off, but it didn't. So I took that break because I lost in the first round of Wimbledon and I was just thinking about all the things I should be grateful for.
"Honestly, I didn't want to be dark but I thought I could die tomorrow, you know what I mean? Or I could be injured and watch people play tennis and not get the opportunity to play again. So I thought, man, I have to have fun doing the thing that I love.
"I got into tennis originally because I love it and I'm not going to change that now."
“We play every week, so it’s not like it’s happening once per year that you lose."
Speaking ahead of @rogerscup, Karolina Pliskova explains how she got used to the daily pressure of being a top player. pic.twitter.com/0GqwrYG9En
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) August 5, 2019
Of course, Osaka is not the first nor the last player to have to learn how to deal with increased expectations on the fly. No.3 Karolina Pliskova echoed Osaka's sentiment, that constant pressure exists at all rungs of the WTA rankings.
"I think there is always pressure," Pliskova said. "Doesn't matter if you're No.1 or No.10 or No.200. You always have pressure about something.
"If you're No.200, maybe [the pressure is] not about media, but maybe you have to win money because you don't have money. So there's always something.
"Of course, it's not easy. I'm not saying it's easy. Now, if you lose there are 50 articles saying how can you lose? So maybe it's harder than it was before and the pressure is bigger and the people talk more.
"But you have to learn how to handle it and get used to it. I got used to it. We play every week, so it's not happening once a year that you lose. If it's a good season you win three tournaments a year. Otherwise, every time you lose. So you just have to get used to it."
Former No.1 Simona Halep was reticent to offer any advice to someone who has already accomplished so much in her young career, but the Wimbledon champion offered her own experience as a lesson in perspective.
"It's tough to give advice to a champion so I'm not going to say anything, I'm just explaining how I was in that period," Halep said.
"It is something new and you feel that weight on your shoulders for sure. For me, it was much different. For me, it was a happiness thing. I just enjoyed the moment. I was happy that I could achieve those things and I was not negative about anything. So I felt good after I achieved a Grand Slam and No.1.
"It's true that every day we have pressure and I feel it. It depends how you take it, if you take it positive or you take it negative. After I won the French Open I took it only positive. I took it as only a good thing, a positive thing for me, and thinking all the time that under pressure I play well. It's coming natural and you just look for it.
"I feel relaxed. I've done everything I wanted in tennis, Grand Slams, No.1. So now everything that comes now it comes as a bonus. So I'm not taking life that seriously anymore."
For Sloane Stephens, perspective only came with time, experience, and maturity.
"It's a flight or fight type of thing," Stephens said. "It just depends on where you are, now your seasons going, how your results are going. One match can change a whole season, can change some results, can be the difference between you winning a tournament and losing the first round or the next.
"So a lot has to go into everything that's been happening in your career, in the last months, and your confidence levels. I think that determines how you determine pressure situations in a match."
"Knowing that I still have to play 15 more tournaments before the season is over [puts losses in perspective]. Before when you first start playing you think it has to happen now, I need the results now, I need my ranking to go up now. The way our point system works and the inconsistency of the game, you can not win a match for six months and you can still be in the Top 10, and then you have one good result and you're staying there for another year. It's just how the point system works.
"Now if something tragic happens for three tournaments in a row, I still have 15 more to go. You just have to think of it that way."
Though it's not always fun or easy, Osaka says she's happy to have to go through the growing pains herself and chart her own path.
"I wouldn't have wanted it easier," Osaka said. "For me, the fact that it's been so tough is nice because you get to think about everything.
"Everyone has their own path and I don't think someone's advice would necessarily apply to me and I would probably overthink it anyways. So I think this is the sort of thing you need to figure out by yourself."