BRISBANE, Australia - World No.3 Naomi Osaka finally got her dream meeting with Beyonce during the off-season, and the music legend's message set the 22-year-old up perfectly as she readies for her Australian Open title defense in two weeks.
Osaka is set to kick off her 2020 season this week at the Brisbane International. After an eventful off-season that included her first vacation, hiring new coach Wim Fissette, and a chance encounter with her music legend idol, Osaka says she feels fully refreshed to start her Aussie campaign. She is set to play her first-round match against Maria Sakkari. For a full draw preview, click here.
"I didn't play for most of November, which was a first for me," Osaka told reporters at WTA All Access Hour in Brisbane. "I've never really taken that long of a break before. But I think it was really necessary because my shoulder was kind of worn down.
"After that I just did rehab and slowly started playing again and I think that that worked out really well because I don't feel anything in my shoulder, and I like to think that I'm playing well right now. I guess I'll find that out after I play my match.
"I think the best thing that I did was just have fun," Osaka told WTA Insider. "Because I sort of learned after US Open that I don't really have to train every day for five hours to play well. After the US Open I took the week off and just flew to Japan without training."
Osaka's first major title defense ended in the Round of 16 to Belinda Bencic in New York. She responded by going 11-0 for the rest of the season, winning the Toray Pan Pacific and China Open, before having to withdraw from the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen due to a shoulder injury.
"I just feel like for me having positive energy and having a clean mental slate is really important, so that's what I did this entire off-season. I mean, I trained, but I wasn't super pressed on anything," Osaka said.
"That's just something I had to learn throughout the entire year. I feel like 2019 had so many trials and errors and all in all it felt like a very long year, but now that I'm here it feels very compact. It's learning about myself more. This year there will probably be a lot of things I do wrong but I just have to learn from it."
Osaka arrived to Brisbane with a new coach at the helm, having split with Jermaine Jenkins after the US Open and working with her father through the rest of the 2019 season. Osaka's team reached out to Wim Fissette after the US Open and the veteran coach discussed the option with his then-charge Victoria Azarenka.
"Of course getting the opportunity to work with someone like Naomi was something I had to consider," Fissette told reporters in Brisbane. "When I first saw Vika again in China I had an open conversation with her. Vika wanted to have some time to think about her future.
"A few weeks later she called me and said she couldn't play in January and she wasn't sure about after that. She didn't want to take that opportunity from me because of the insecurity she had."
"[I was looking for] someone that's calm and knowledgeable and can kind of work with the team dynamic, because my trainer, my physio, I've had them for like more than two years and they're like my family at this point," Osaka told reporters. "So I felt like anyone that I brought in now should be able to work well with them.
"I know that he's worked with a lot of top players and I feel like I'm learning from everything that he says, and I try to apply it.
"It's kind of tough because this is the first tournament and in a way, I expect a lot because I want to pick up from where I left off, minus the injury part. And I know that he wants to do really well too, so there's that factor. But at the same time, I don't want to put coach pressure on him."
Asked what lessons she learned in New York that she hopes to apply in Melbourne, Osaka excitedly revealed she had finally met Beyonce during the off-season and their conversation helped put her accomplishments into perspective.
"I think for me the key is not listening to outside noise too much," Osaka told WTA Insider. "Trusting myself and trusting my abilities and going out there and fighting for every point is something that I need to do in order to play well.
"For me, New York is sort of classified as the Coco [Gauff] thing. It was so weird because it felt beyond tennis. People were talking to me that weren't tennis heads."
"I met Beyonce and Jay Z during the off-season. She just smelled expensive and beautiful and she was soft and she hugged me," Osaka said, laughing. "I was like, this is what heaven is."
"She was talking to me and she said she was proud of me. I thought, wow, that actually was a really important moment. I felt really depressed after I lost my match, but I'm thinking about the impact that tennis players - I don't think we know. I don't think we're aware of all the good that we can do.
"That was kind of an eye-opening thing. Even though it was one of my worst points, to lose - I wanted to be a defending champion and I lost early - there's still something really good that came out of that."
"Yesterday night, until I went to sleep I was just thinking about the US Open and how many regrets I had. Imagine if I won my match and then won the next match, won the next match, I probably would have played Serena and that would have been awesome.
"Things like that keep me up at night. There are some things that I have to remember are out of my control, especially past events. So I just have to put myself in a position to not regret anything."
Bonus Naomi Osaka vacation anecdote:
Q. In terms of the off-season, how different of an off-season did this feel like for you and what was the key? Why do you think you feel so refreshed starting the year?
NAOMI OSAKA: Let's see, I took my first vacation ever. I went to Turks. It was really fun. My sister was there. She made me paddleboard, and then the current took us and I almost died, but that's another story.
Q. Going back to your near-death experience on the paddleboard, what happened with that? Were you stuck out at sea or anything crazy like that?
NAOMI OSAKA: Listen, if you're scared, everything becomes more exaggerated. So I'm going to tell you my story. She might say I'm lying, but this is what happened to me personally.
We went paddleboarding. I've never gone paddleboarding. I don't like the ocean like that. I like to be able to see what's about to happen to me. So we went paddleboarding next to the house. That was all fine. It was beautiful. It was a beautiful day. I saw starfish.
And suddenly we hit a current and I'm freaking out a little bit, because the house is getting further. Unless my eyes are playing tricks on me, it's getting far as heck, and then she was all like, Oh, just let the current take you out and we can just go around it later. And I'm like, how far out are you trying to take us, because it's black, like, the water is black now, and the house is like a tiny dot, and I can't really swim that well.
And then I fall in the water, so now I'm like thinking about all the sharks in the Caribbean and I was like screaming at her, like, If you, if I die, this is on you. You're going to have to tell mom how I died in the Turks and Caicos (laughing).
Yeah, so I'm like crying, and then I get back on the board and then she decides that she wants to say that she sees a shark. So now I'm like screaming and crying, and I was fine, though, because I'm here. But in that moment I just really thought, like, I don't want to die like that. Yeah, that's the end of the story.
Q. So two questions: Do you know in reality how far you were off the shore? Was it a hundred meters?
NAOMI OSAKA: I'm not lying.
Q. And did you learn anything from that kind of experience, being out of your depth a little bit maybe?
NAOMI OSAKA: I don't know, like, distance. I want to say, like, one New York block, maybe two short blocks. Listen, that thing was scary.
What did I learn?
I learned that you can't trust your siblings. No matter how much they say that they will protect you, they will never be able to protect you. You got to protect yourself. Because it's a cold world out there.