INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - World No.1 Naomi Osaka isn't looking back. She's only looking forward. The 2018 BNP Paribas Open champion says she's not focused on defending her title, but on winning another one. It's a small but meaningful semantic difference that gives some insight into the mind of the 21-year-old as she returns to the site of her first title run.
"All the people around me are super supportive," Osaka told reporters at WTA All Access Hour on Thursday. "They're not talking about 'title defense'. We just want to keep moving forward. It's not about defending, it's about getting another one. That's how our minds are and how it might be different than other people."
"It's been a really crazy ride for me. You guys say 'last year', but it feels like 10 years ago, in a way."
"For me, last year I was just here to have fun, maybe make it to the quarters. It sounds bad saying it, but it's true, because I had never really gone far at a tournament like this. Honestly, I just kept playing really great players in every round and I was just like, I'm here for a good time," Osaka said laughing. "But then I kept winning and I thought Whoa, maybe I can actually win this tournament, and I did."
"Now I [still] want to have fun, but it's a little bit changed since my first tournament in Australia, Brisbane. I just want to do the things I practiced and know that I can do well, and even if things aren't going my way to just try and win matches. I think I did that at the Australian Open and hopefully I can refine that skill."
To help Osaka refine that skill is her new coach, Jermaine Jenkins. Osaka has been a frequent site on the practice courts in the buildup to Indian Wells, hitting with a variety of players including ATP pros Frances Tiafoe and Chris Eubanks. Osaka says she can already feel the positive impact of her partnership with Jenkins.
"I feel like I'm getting stronger, and when you get stronger you get better," Osaka told the Japanese press. "At the same time, it's really fun to practice with him because he's strict, but he's not afraid to make jokes."
"He's like a strict older brother who wants the best for you, but he's kind of mean about it, but at the same time he cares about you," she said with a grin.
Osaka kicks off her Indian Wells campaign looking to avenge her last loss, a straight-set dismissal at the hands of Kristina Mladenovic two weeks ago at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
"I think the match this time around is going to be different from Dubai," Osaka said. "Now I kind of know what to expect. I also don't have that big burden on my shoulders anymore and I'm just enjoying my time here."
Osaka plays Mladenovic in the second round on Saturday.