SHENZHEN, China - Although World No.3 Naomi Osaka’s season came to a disappointing end at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, where she had to withdraw due to injury, the Japanese player took away plenty of positives after bouncing back from the “lowest emotional feeling”.
Addressing press after announcing her withdrawal due to a right shoulder injury - sending Kiki Bertens into the competition as an alternate - Osaka was understably disappointed but ready to close the book on an emotional rollercoaster of a season.
“I mean, it's not ideal. This is the second time I had to withdraw from the Finals,” she said, referring to last year’s retirement in the last match of the round robin. “I mean, the last time I at least played, so a retirement instead of a withdrawal.
“Yeah, it kind of sucks because I thought I was playing well. I definitely wanted to win here.”
Despite her obvious disappointment, Osaka cut an upbeat figure as she reflected on her rollercoaster 2019 season, which she described as “U”-shaped.
“For me, I always say when you [press] ask me at the end of the year what I thought was good or bad, my answer is always: I wish I was more consistent throughout the year,” she said.
Osaka kicked off the season by cementing her place at the top of the tennis world with a victory at the Australian Open, claiming her second Grand Slam title and rising to World No.1. But it would be another eight months before she would return to a final after failing to defend her titles in Indian Wells and the US Open, and falling in the first round of Wimbledon.
“I feel like the year was like a U,” Osaka explained. “Australian Open, amazing. Europe was the bottom part of the U. Not the country, just my season there. Then Asia was the other half of the U.”
Indeed, Osaka bounced back in a strong way as the tour turned to Asia. She didn’t drop a set at the Toray Pan Pacific Open, lifting the trophy in her birth city of Osaka, and then kept the momentum going at the China Open in Beijing, where she claimed her second WTA Premier Mandatory crown.
“Surprisingly I think this year is better than last year, even though I cried way more this year than I did last year,” she admitted.
“I also think that's a lesson that I learned. It's just like you have the opportunity to, like, change the things that are happening to you, even though it might not seem like it at the moment.”
The turnaround, according to Osaka, was a tough talk that she had with herself and her team following her US Open defeat to Belinda Bencic. It was the third consecutive time she’d lost to the Swiss player, ending her first Grand Slam title defense and losing her WTA No.1 ranking.
“The thing that I'm most proud of myself is, like, after US Open I set goals,” Osaka told Japanese press. “I came here [to Asia] with a purpose. I feel like I could have easily, like, shut it down for the year because I play mostly for the Grand Slams. That was the last one.
“I felt like I had a purpose. I was able to win the tournaments here [in Asia]. That was definitely the highlight… The lowest? Probably Wimbledon, honestly. That was like the lowest emotional feeling I've ever felt.”
With the 2020 Olympics to look forward to in her home country, Osaka’s immediate plans after leaving Shenzhen will be to travel back to Japan and receive an MRI on her shoulder - although she has initially ruled out surgery.
Osaka will kick off the season in Brisbane, where she’s defending semifinal points, before heading to Melbourne for her Australian Open title defense.
“Honestly I just want to, like, train really hard,” she said. “Last year during the off-season I trained really hard for Australia. I felt like going into the Slam I was really fit. I just want to try to duplicate that.”