MELBOURNE, Australia -- First the cover of Time Magazine, now a second consecutive Grand Slam championship and a debut at the World No.1 ranking -- 2019 is starting spectacularly for Naomi Osaka.
The Japanese star overcame two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-4, in the Australian Open final on Saturday night, becoming the first player since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to follow up her first Grand Slam title with a second straight trophy.
"For me, Grand Slams is something you dream about playing as a kid," said the new top-ranked player in the world, during her press conference. "I don't ever want to waste this opportunity. So those are the biggest motivating factors for me."
"I had dreams that I would win this tournament," Osaka continued. "Every time I have a dream, somehow I accomplish it, I still feel like it's a very strange moment. Like, I feel like I'm living right now, but it's not necessarily real, if that makes sense."
The reigning US Open and Australian Open champion had to survive a stern test from Kvitova, as the Czech fended off three championship points at 7-6, 5-3, and sent the match into a decisive third set.
"I felt like I didn't want to have any regrets," said Osaka. "I think if I didn't regroup after the second set, then I would have looked back on this match and probably cried or something."
"I just thought to myself that this is my second time playing a final," Osaka continued. "I can't really act entitled. To be playing against one of the best players in the world, to lose a set, suddenly think that I'm so much better than her that that isn't a possibility...
"Yeah, I wanted to enjoy my time here. Last year I lost in the fourth round. Now this year I was in the final, so I wanted to be happy about that, yeah, just basically have no regrets about today."
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 26, 2019
In the third set, Osaka had to steel herself. "You know how some people get worked up about things?" she queried. "That's a very human thing to do. Sometimes, I don't know, I feel like I don't want to waste my energy doing stuff like that.
"I think about this on the court, too. Like in the third set of my match today, I literally just tried to turn off all my feelings. So that's why I wasn't yelling as much in the third set."
"I was just executing my orders," Osaka added. "I just did what I've been practicing my whole life in a way. I didn't waste any energy reacting too much. But then when it got towards the end, then I started realizing how big the situation was, so then I think I started yelling 'C'mon' again."
Osaka had a high level of esteem for her opponent, whom she faced for the first time. "I mean, everyone that sort of listens or watches the tennis world, you always hear about how when [Kvitova] is on, she's pretty much unbeatable. The scorelines seem to prove that point, too.
"I was very nervous coming into my match today because I didn't really know what to expect. I didn't know if she was just going to blast winners, there's nothing I could have done about it. And I'm not sure if she played well today. I would have to ask either you or her.
"It was very educational in a way, because for me it's very hard to, like, step onto a court against someone that I've never played, especially at such a high stage."
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 26, 2019
Just one year ago, Osaka was ranked well outside the Top 50 and had yet to make a quarterfinal at a Grand Slam event. But what might appear to outsiders as a meteoric rise to the top of the game feels quite different to Osaka.
"I guess looking from the outside, from your guys' view, it does [feel quick]," said Osaka. "For me, every practice and every match that I've played, it feels like the year is short and long at the same time.
"But I'm aware of all the work that I put in. I know all the sacrifices that every player does to stay at this level. I mean, in my opinion, it didn't feel fast. It felt kind of long."
"I feel like [the No.1 ranking] hasn't really sunk in," Osaka added. "Maybe in the next tournament I play, if I see the No. 1 next to my name, I'll feel something. But for now, I'm more happy that I won this trophy."
"People were talking about being No. 1 if I win this tournament. I was able to accomplish that. But the ranking was never my real goal, it was just to win this tournament.
"I do think I did have a lot of stress, but only in certain moments. Then it went away. It's usually during all the three-set matches I played this time. But I feel like I was able to handle it well, sort of relax my mind so I wouldn't overthink.
"I think as a whole, this tournament was very eye-opening for me. I had a lot of matches that were very tough and I was behind in some of them. I think it showed me that I could win matches from behind, just on willpower alone."
Finally, Osaka received the trophy from two-time Grand Slam champion Li Na of China, one of the newest inductees into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
"I didn't expect to see her there," Osaka admitted. "At first I was very shocked. I wanted to cry a little bit, but I didn't want to cry on this podium. So, yeah, I was really touched. I just felt really honored that she was giving me this trophy."