BEIJING, Osaka - Naomi Osaka says she still feels she has something to prove after winning her maiden major title last month at the US Open. That desire propelled the 20-year-old in two strong follow-ups to her New York run, making the final of her home event at the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo and a strong semifinal run this week at season's final Premier Mandatory at the China Open. Battling a back injury throughout the week, Osaka moved her record since the start of the US Open to 14-1 before bowing out to Anastasija Sevastova 6-4, 6-4 on Saturday.
"I think definitely as the weeks go by, I have this feeling of wanting to prove myself," Osaka said. "I think that sort of takes a toll on me a little bit because I sort of stress myself out in a way.
"I think after Tokyo, coming to this tournament, I wasn't really 100% sure I was going to win my first match even. I think just to make it this far, hopefully I get to carry this momentum."
On Monday, Osaka will rise to a career-high ranking of No.4, the highest-ranked Japanese woman since Kimiko Date set the mark in 1995. If she can continue her momentum through the end of the season, she could finish her astounding season as the highest-ranked Japanese woman ever.
"Actually I was talking to Kimiko in the French Open," she said. "I think that was right after I won Indian Wells. We were talking about how my ranking was high, that she had the highest ranking, which was 4. I was like, Oh, it would be nice to get there. But I wasn't really thinking too much that I would do it this year.
"I think it's really amazing that I was able to do it. Of course, I want to keep going."
Asked why she felt she still had something to prove after winning her first Slam at 20-years-old, Osaka acknowledged that a combination of her own ambition and reading internet comments fueled her fire.
"I'm going to be kind of real with you," she said. "I think humans are people, they're never happy. And I'm not really talking about myself, I'm just saying from the outside, I guess. If you don't win a tournament, then people will say, Oh, she hasn't won a tournament. If you haven't won a slam, they'll say, She hasn't won a slam. Then if you win one Grand Slam, they're like, Oh, she only won one Grand Slam.
"I know it's bad, but I sort of read the comments. I'm just, like, Oh, I guess I have to do more, to be better. I mean, in a way I guess it's good for me because I think that way myself anyways. I think that's one of the things that makes me want to prove myself.
"When I read comments like that, it just confuses me. I don't even feel anything. I just feel confused because I'm not really sure if they know what they're talking about 100% probably."
"I can see why people think that way, especially if there's someone that's so hyped. I don't want to say I'm hyped, but I feel like I am right now. So then I think just people keep wanting more.
"For me, I don't think that people necessarily understand that in tennis there's good days and bad days. That's part of the process. If you look at me as a whole this year, I think I've definitely improved a lot. So for me, that's good enough, and I'm happy. Every tournament is like a different journey.
"I mean, there's not even a Slam this year anymore. For me, one Slam this year is good. I'm just trying to take it to next year, see what happens."
Osaka dismissed any concern over her back injury, which began before her first match of the tournament, saying it was the result of fatigue.
"I got assessed, and I was told that it wasn't, like, a life-threatening injury," she said with a laugh. "I was just told that it's from fatigue, like I've played a lot of matches and stuff. It's basically just a matter of resting." Currently entered in next week's International-level tournament in Hong Kong, Osaka said she had yet to talk to her team about her upcoming schedule. Earlier this week she became the third woman to qualify for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, which begins on October 21st.
Upbeat after the loss, Osaka cut a very different figure than the one who was visibly disappointed and embarrassed by her emotional behavior during her comeback win over Zhang Shuai in the quarterfinals. Feeling drained at the start of that match, Osaka had to battle back tears and frustration throughout the lengthy match before rallying from 1-4 down in the third to win 3-6, 6-4, 7-5.
"I don't really know why I feel happier now," Osaka said after her semifinal loss. "I mean, yesterday I think I was a little bit not ashamed but apologetic. For me personally, I think I behaved sort of wrong on the court yesterday. I think just taking that and wanting to do better today.
"I think even though it wasn't 100% great, I think I did learn from yesterday, and I tried to apply it today. I don't have any regrets from today. I think that's one of the reasons why I'm happier."