BRISBANE, Australia - WTA Insider catches up with reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka at the Brisbane International after her off-season recharge, as she readies for the start of her 2019 campaign.
"I feel like the off season for me has been very long, and personally I really love playing tournaments, and especially Australia," the World No.5 told reporters at WTA All Access Hour. "So I'm really happy to be back."
Joining the WTA Insider Podcast, the 21-year-old discusses how things have changed at home after her breakout 2018 season, her New Year's resolutions, and how fame has impacted her biracial identity.
Listen to the full interview below and subscribe to the WTA Insider Podcast here or on any podcast app of your choice.
WTA Insider: Let's talk a little bit about your off-season. You said that it was really important for you to get family time and spend time with your family to recharge the batteries. So what does family time with the Osaka family look like?
Osaka: Wouldn't you love to know (laughs)? My mom cooks dinner and we all go out somewhere, usually it's to the mall because there's nothing really to do in Florida, to be honest. Just spend a lot of time with my sister. Maybe we play video games or something. It's more like we're all enjoying each other's company.
WTA Insider: Is it a rare time when all four of you can be under the roof together? Your sister is doing her tennis thing as well and your parents are working.
Osaka: My parents aren't working anymore. I mean my mom's constantly working though, she's always really busy and sending a lot of emails and texts. My dad's just kind of chilling and he watches my practices when I'm at home and he comes to the Grand Slams and stuff. So, yeah, it's kind of rare because for me it's basically the off-season and towards the hard court season that I'm home.
WTA Insider: I spoke to your mom in New York. I had asked her at the time, are you going to go and accompany Naomi to Japan and then China, into Singapore. She said she would go to Japan but not China because she had to work. She said 'I used to have two jobs, now I have one job.' So now you're saying she's just full-time working Naomi Osaka Corp? Is that her full-time job now?
Osaka: Um, yeah, that's sort of her job. I always ask her, do you want to go somewhere? She's like, no, I'm so busy! Can't you see how busy I am? And then she'd go on her computer. She has an office in the house and she's always in there. But I feel like she's, like, fake being busy. Like she's making herself more busy than she has to be.
WTA Insider: It must feel very good for you, that the career that you've now built for yourself that your parents don't have to work.
Osaka: Yeah, I mean definitely. I think growing up I've always wanted for my mom to not have to work, especially since basically growing up my dad was my coach so he would always be with us and he didn't really work. It was my mom. So she would like in New York she would leave at like four in the morning and come back at nine and we would barely see her. So I always dreamed that I would be able to provide for the family. So I'm really happy I'm in this position now.
WTA Insider: There's a lot that's coming with hitting tennis balls now in your career. So are you used to it? Is it still really new and weird to you? I mean, how do you handling the business side of what you have to deal with these days?
Osaka: Well the thing is I feel like I've sort of grown into it. Like every year I feel like I've been accustomed to a larger scale of media. And I think that the biggest part of the reason why is the Japanese media have been so nice to me and they've always been so interested in what I've been doing. So I'm not surprised, I would say.
But for me, it's more shocking when I'm not in Japan. Like if when I'm in different countries, I get really surprised when people recognize me and it throws me off.
WTA Insider: Has anybody recognized you at a Florida mall yet?
Osaka: Yeah, actually, yeah, it happened. She started crying (laughs). I was like, Oh my God, I'm so sorry. And she was like, Oh, I love you so much. Because the lady, she was Haitian and she had kids that were biracial. For me, when people type it, it's different from when someone actually tells me in real life. I remember it so much.
WTA Insider: When you look ahead a little bit and you look towards this season, what are the goals for you?
Osaka: My goals I think are the same as last year. I have more confidence now, going into this year. Of course I want to do well at every tournament I play and hopefully win. But I think the mindset I had towards the end of the year helped me more, which was just to have fun and try the best that I can in every match. So I'm just going to stick to that.
WTA Insider: We just got out of your press conference and in years past you have done your Japanese press conference in English, where the Japanese press ask you a quick question in Japanese and you responded in English. Your mother told me she speaks Japanese with you and your sister at home and that you understand everything. You just gets a little bit nervous to pick out the words. So what are the reasons why you're trying to do the Japanese press in Japanese now, and how much work in the off-season did you have to put into that?
Osaka: The reasons are because I feel like all I need to do is talk, right? But I'm not surrounded by people that are fluent in Japanese, like Sasha didn't speak Japanese. I would have to call my mom in order to practice. So I feel like this would be a really good lesson for me. Plus they're always correcting me if I say something wrong. So that was sort of my reason.
And also I was watching something on YouTube, and there was a biracial person and they were asking them how they felt after I won the US Open, and I really didn't think about representation. So I was thinking, how would it feel for them that I am like them, but I don't speak Japanese, and I speak English and they don't speak English but they speak Japanese. So I'm just trying to improve the image. I want to be able to communicate with them.
WTA Insider: My experience in dealing with a lot of Japanese people that they absolutely are fluent. They understand everything. The only reason why they're reticent to speak is just this perfectionist streak. Do you relate to that at all? You know what to say, but maybe you're not saying it perfectly and I know you're a perfectionist and all that.
Osaka: Yeah, definitely for me that's one of the biggest factors. I know what I want to say in my head and I know some of the words to get there, but I might not know the correct grammar. So usually I would just say it in English even though my English isn't that great (laughs). But yeah, it's a little bit of a perfectionist issue.
WTA Insider: Have you found yourself thinking about those issues of representation more now? Obviously that's one of the big angles that people write about with you, even before everything happened. So is it a little bit more on your mind these days than maybe was 12 months ago in terms of what you can do or what your role or position is in that?
Osaka: I think it's gotten on my mind more because of the US Open. More people have been approaching me now. So I see them - like I actually see them - and they tell me how much it means. They're giving me so much of their feelings, so I should be able to do something to help them out too. And it's not even like a big deal or anything to try to speak Japanese. For me, I feel like I should be doing more.
WTA Insider: When you were growing up, did you have people that you looked up to on that angle that you saw yourself in, in pop culture? Did you see biracial people that you looked up to when you were growing up were you thought, oh, I see myself in you.
Osaka: There was Kimora Lee [Simmons], and then the speed skater Apollo Ohno. I read his book and I really thought he was cool. And then Jhené Aiko, like she's really pretty. But it's not like they were all athletes. So for me I was just really happy for them, but it wasn't like they were an idol but more like I was conscious that there were other people out there.
WTA Insider: Last question for you. Are you a New Year's resolution person?
Osaka: Sort of, but at the same time, not really. Why?
WTA Insider: Because if you, do you have any that you're willing to share? What, what's kind of your take on the whole 'New Year, New Me' mentality.
Osaka: I mean for me, I just want to be happy. I think that people that are positive attract a lot of good energy, so I'm just hoping to be that person and to spread a lot of good vibes on and off the court.