BEIJING, China - Naomi Osaka kicked off her fall Asian swing with something to prove and 10 matches later, it's safe to say she's accomplished her mission. The former No.1 followed up her title-run in Osaka by capturing her third title of the season at the China Open on Sunday, defeating World No.1 Ashleigh Barty 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
"Honestly, I just wanted to win this one for my fans, like the ones that stuck around," Osaka said on the WTA Insider Podcast after her win. "I know it was a hard year but I'm so grateful and so lucky to have them."
En route to her second Premier Mandatory title, Osaka, herself the reigning Australian Open champion, defeated two reigning major champions in Barty (Roland Garros) and Canada's Bianca Andreescu (US Open), to move her record to 5-1 against Top 10 opponents in 2019. On Monday she will rise to No.3 in both the rankings and the Porsche Race to Shenzhen Leaderboard, after booking her spot in the year-end Finals.
"I just wanted to prove something to myself, which was even on the days that I know I'm so tired and I'm 100 percent not playing as I want, just as long as I keep fighting I'll be able to find ways," Osaka said on the WTA Insider Podcast in Beijing.
"[As for] proving to other people, I think during Europe that's what I wanted to do. That's what I was so hellbent on doing, and that's the wrong mentality for me. I'm not that type of person."
"At the end of the day, I know who I am. I know what I'm capable of. I just try to get better every day."
Hear Osaka's full interview after her Beijing triumph on the WTA Insider Podcast below:
WTA Insider: What is your biggest takeaway from this week?
Osaka: The biggest takeaway is I was very emotional in every match I played. But I think I found a way to stay calm towards the end. I didn't play that many three-set matches I think I only played two. It felt like more. Every opponent that I played was very high quality. So I'm really happy that I only played two three-set matches.
WTA Insider: How do you compare this title run with your past runs?
Osaka: This one feels different because I wanted it. I want to win every tournament, but this one, after U.S. Open I set out my goals, to win Osaka and here and then, of course, Shenzhen too. This, I felt like I had a clear specific plan of what I wanted to do.
WTA Insider: What do you mean when you say you had a plan?
Osaka: In my head I was chanting 'I will dominate'. Which is why I like I played so many two sets, because most of the time I play a lot of three-set matches. So I think I was really focused these past three weeks and also, I don't know, it just felt different compared to all the other tournaments that I've won.
WTA Insider: Over the years, you seem to be looking for the formula for how to play your best tennis and win tournaments. But looking at your title runs they seem so wildly different when it comes to your mindset before and during the tournament. Is that what you see?
Osaka: Honestly, the only consistent is I just have to keep fighting. And that's something that I've noticed throughout this tournament specifically, because honestly when I played Bianca there were moments where I was just like, man, this is gonna be it.
But then I kept telling myself maybe something will change if you keep fighting for every point and maybe you'll get opportunities and I did. So I just think it's just mentality.
WTA Insider: Tennis players are notoriously negative because they're such perfectionists. Why do you think that is?
Osaka: I can answer for myself why I'm a perfectionist. Not sure why everyone else is. But for me, I just feel like I've practiced for so many hours and for so many years. I should be able to do specific things when I want to. So that's the main reason. Sometimes feels like what do I practice for if I can't do it when I want to? That type of thing.
WTA Insider: During the on-court coaching timeouts this week, your father was very positive and he often said he trusted you to make the right decisions. In terms of getting you to trust your instincts this week, how instrumental was he?
Osaka: I think he knows that I overthink. Literally when I play all I can think is percentages and formulas. What percent chance is she going to serve this way compared to that way? What did she serve the last point?
So yeah, my dad can kind of sense that and he knows when I'm thinking too much. So when he tells me that he trusts me, it just helps me relax a little bit. When he says that it helps me trust myself too at the same time.
WTA Insider: You said earlier this week that you felt you wanted to prove something. What did you prove to everyone else and also to yourself?
Osaka: I mean for me I just wanted to prove something to myself, which was even on the days that I know I'm so tired and I'm 100 percent not playing as I want, just as long as I keep fighting I'll be able to find ways.
[As for] proving to other people, I think during Europe that's what I wanted to do. That's what I was so hellbent on doing, and that's the wrong mentality for me. I'm not that type of person.
Honestly, I just wanted to win this one for my fans, like the ones that stuck around (laughs). I know it was a hard year but I'm so grateful and so lucky to have them.
WTA Insider: Why do you think your Europe swing was, in your words, "terrible" or a "disaster"? Why did you come out of that section of the season so negative?
Osaka: I mean I know I had the best clay season compared to everything else but I wanted to get to the finals of French, I wanted to win it. So if I'm comparing that to like third round, it's just not great. And Wimbledon, everyone always tells me I'm supposedly supposed to be a great grass player and I lose in the first round. And I didn't do well in Birmingham either.
So I just feel like for me the expectations when I play a tournament are like finals, you know? So anything below that is just kind of, I'm not performing how I should be.
WTA Insider: After you lost at the US Open that you weren't mad about losing in the Round of 16. Here you said that wasn't true. At what did you realize how you felt about the US Open and then transition forward to the last part of the season?
Osaka: Honestly, the night of (laughs). I'm fine with losing if I know I tried my best. Like today, if Ash beat me I'm good with it, because I know I've done everything in my power.
But when I played my last match in the U.S. Open I know there was a part of me that held back. And for me, it's just hard to unlock that part. It's not something I can really readily control which is why I have a lot of ups and downs. Whenever that happens it's very disappointing and I know that everyone around me is also a bit disappointed because they know what I play like when I try 100 percent.
WTA Insider: So what are your plans now ahead of the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen and what is the key to maintaining this headspace for the last tournament of the season.
Osaka: I'm gonna go to Tokyo. So I'm going to have a lot of fun but also train really hard. It's gonna be the last push of the year and honestly, I just want to keep the streak going.
I really want to win Shenzhen too, so that's my main goal and I know that I'm just gonna train really hard for that.
WTA Insider: You said after defeating Andreescu that you wanted to remind people that you were still here. Do you think you sent that message?
Osaka: You know what's funny? I was really caring about that when I won Osaka and then up until I played Caroline. Now I'm just thinking I know who I am. Everyone in the tennis world knows who I am. So I don't think I have to prove anything.
My thing is I read comments. I hate myself for this. I'm so mad all the time. So then I had that thing about wanting to prove to all the haters I can do it.
At the end of the day, I know who I am. I know what I'm capable of. I just try to get better every day.