Naomi Osaka has never been shy about her ambitions. In an interview with The New York Times at the 2016 Australian Open, where she defeated Elina Svitolina in the first round, the then 18-year-old was asked about her career ambitions. She proceeded to quote the Pokemon theme song.
"To be the very best, like no one ever was,” Osaka said.
Flash forward five years, and the now four-time major champion has another Pokemon adage on the mind: Gotta catch 'em all.
On Saturday, Osaka capped off yet another triumphant fortnight at a hardcourt major, defeating Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-3 to win her second Australian Open title. The win was Osaka's 21st consecutive victory and moved her incredible record once she advances to the quarterfinals of a Slam to 12-0. Now up to No.2 in the rankings on Monday, Osaka is the first woman since Monica Seles to win her first four major finals.
With two US Open and two Australian Open titles under her belt, Osaka has not shied away from the obvious question: Can she replicate her hardcourt success on the clay and grass?
Osaka's coach, Wim Fissette, is confident in her potential on the natural surfaces.
"She's kind of a natural mover on the court and just seeing the way she moves, the way she has the easy power, the way she can build the points, there are a lot of things that I see why she could really perform well on clay. But she needs matches and she needs confidence in those matches and confidence in a certain game plan.
"I remember in the past when, a long time ago, when I was working with Kim [Clijsters] and she didn't play many tournaments on clay. She was playing great tennis but as soon as she would miss a few balls, she would doubt a lot of things. She would doubt her game plan, she would doubt, like, oh, maybe I should have gone bigger on this ball, maybe I should have been more patient on this ball. I think when you don't have a lot of experience of success on those surfaces, that's easy to start doubting.
"If Naomi plays on hard court and she goes for the forehand winner and she misses, she will say, Okay, next time I will make it. But maybe on those [other] surfaces she will think, Oh, maybe I should have hit with a little more margin, maybe I should have done this. So it's easy to start doubting.
"So for me, we have to use opportunities to play a lot of matches, hopefully be successful, but otherwise also learn from those losses eventually. And then I'm sure she will be successful on both surfaces. Maybe this year, but if not this year, probably next year. But I don't see any restrictions of her playing well on those surfaces."
Osaka joined the WTA Insider Podcast after her Australian Open win to reflect on the keys to her title run, what she needs to do to complete her set of Grand Slam trophies, and why she's already looking forward to another run on European clay.
WTA Insider: What's the overwhelming feeling right now?
Osaka: I think the overwhelming feelings for me, just after winning New York, I really wanted to start the year off really well. And I don't think that there's a better tournament to win than this one.
WTA Insider: How would you characterize your two weeks in Melbourne? It seemed like it was a fairly settled two weeks for you.
Osaka: Yeah, I would say for me, I felt like I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to achieve. Even if I didn't win or anything, I just wanted to keep a very good attitude and establish that I fought for every point and I tried as hard as I could. That led me to the win. But honestly, I would have been OK if I didn't get the trophy today.
WTA Insider: So much of the discussion over the last two weeks has been about how your team has evolved and really gelled over the last 12 months. Your coach, Wim Fissette, was very appreciative of how open you've been with them. Can you talk about that evolution and how it's helped you?
Osaka: Yeah, I think when I was younger, I used to try to shoulder everything by myself. I didn't want to trouble anyone with my stress and my burdens.
But after talking to Wim, he told me that it's easier for him to try to logically talk about the things that are worrying me than for me to just sort of close everyone in my team off. I think that really helped me a lot. It's kind of almost become like a routine now, where we would just talk more than anything.
WTA Insider: Was it difficult for you to be vulnerable to them?
Osaka: I would say in the beginning it was, yes, because I didn't want to trouble anyone. And for me, I barely speak to people outside my family anyway. So it was a bit weird to tell them that I felt uncomfortable in situations, or that I feel kind of stressed or sad and things like that. So I think there was a bit of processing time.
WTA Insider: What did you tell them before the final? What were you feeling?
Osaka: Yeah, I told them the truth. I told them that I was nervous. It worries me a lot because I wasn't sure what to expect.
I think that's the greatest fear for me, the unknown, not knowing what's going to happen. But I guess that's also a part of life and it's honestly a privilege to even be playing here right now. And everyone practices to play in the finals of a Slam, so I should just be happy to be here in the end.
WTA Insider: What do you think is the key to succeeding off of the hard courts?
Osaka: I think on clay, I feel like I don't play bad. I honestly thought I played pretty well last year. I just didn't go far in the Grand Slam like everyone expected me to. But I think that's also a process.
I feel like I have everything that I need to do well on clay and on grass, but it's just [about] feeling comfortable. I don't think I feel totally comfortable on either surface because I didn't really play on red clay or grass growing up and I've played on hard basically my whole life. So, yeah, just more experience.
WTA Insider: To your point, in 2019 you made the semifinals of Stuttgart and back-to-back quarterfinals in Madrid and Rome. Is it just a mental thing on clay? Learning to enjoy it?
Osaka: I think definitely it's a mental thing. I know that the last time I played in the French Open, I lost to Siniakova, but I had opportunities. I really remember thinking I was able to win that much, but in the end, it didn't go my way. I think that the more I play on it, the better I'll get.
WTA Insider: Are you excited for that challenge?
Osaka: I feel more excited than anything. I think there's a feeling of doing something for the first time and wanting to be good at a lot of different things. For me, it's a real priority. And I also kind of want to complete my set of trophies. I'm missing two. Hee Hee.
WTA Insider: You're chasing them like Pokemon. Gotta catch them all.
Osaka: Kind of.
WTA Insider: Since you turned pro in 2014, you have played less than 35 professional matches on grass. Is that something you can internalize in order to transform yourself into a good grass-court player?
Osaka: Honestly for grass, I can definitely say it's an issue of experience because I don't really feel comfortable on the surface. But I think every year that goes by, I learn more. I talk to more people.
There are some people that can tell how the ball's going to bounce by the height of the blade. I don't even understand what that means, but I guess they're that experienced. So hopefully I'll get there one day.
WTA Insider: When you left the US Open, you wanted to work on your return. Leaving Melbourne, are there things that you're inspired to work on based on your experience there?
Osaka: Yeah, I think definitely. I feel that's also a human thing. We're never satisfied. We always have things that we want to work on. I think Wim's keeping a notebook of things that he wants to work on and I'm also never satisfied. I think that's why we also make a pretty good team.
WTA Insider: Do you have a sense of what your schedule is looking at going forward?
Osaka: Honestly, I'm not really sure. I feel like there are so many things that are happening in the world. You can never really be too sure about anything schedule-wise.
WTA Insider: What's the first thing you want to do in terms of celebrating? You looked a bit unsure about the glass of champagne you were offered at your press conference.
Osaka: I just want to go into my hotel room and sleep. I'm not really a big party person or anything. I'm just excited to go home.