MIAMI, FL, USA - It was the moment Mari Osaka wanted to make happen for half a year, and though her Miami Open campaign didn't end as she'd hoped - with a 6-2, 6-4 defeat to fellow wildcard Whitney Osuigwe - the elder sister of World No.1 Naomi Osaka found positives in her post-match press conference.
"I played this match with no pain, which I haven't done in such a long time," she said on Thursday afternoon. "It feels really good, like I can keep moving forward from here."
Osaka has struggled with a right shoulder injury for most of 2019. Playing her first-ever WTA main draw match, her encounter with Osuigwe was her first on any level since late January, and the 22-year-old hasn't won a match since October, when she finished runner-up at a $25K ITF Pro Circuit event in Florence, South Carolina.
"I was super nervous, but I think I played well, despite that. I wasn't going to miss this tournament, you know. It was a good experience."
Naomi had described a lifelong rivalry with her sister during Wednesday's WTA All-Access Hour.
Mari, who bears a striking family resemblance and employs a similar vocal cadence, disputed some of those details.
"I think she was older than 15, but ok," she smiled, thinking back to the first time Naomi won a practice match. "Sometimes I think she was throwing the matches on purpose just so that we could finish practice quicker.
"So the moment she started trying, I was getting pissed off. I was, like, 'Come on, do you want to get through this?' Because we'd spend, like, hours on the court."
Practicing once together earlier in the week, the sisters managed to navigate the top seed's busy schedule to work in a few dinners, and Mari remains in awe of Naomi's rise to the top of the WTA rankings and two straight Grand Slam titles.
"The one word that comes to my mind is, like, 'amazing,' that she's doing so amazing. Like, it's almost our dreams coming true that we have been working for our whole life. I'm really proud of her."
Asked about how she looked on her own career by comparison, she emotionally added:
"My own journey is separate, but of course I come to compare a little bit, so it's frustrating. But, you know, not much I can do about that."
Emerging from outside the press room following a short break, Osaka was as poised as ever. She coolly and confidently switched into answering questions in Japanese, questions asked by a press corp that has not only grown larger since Naomi made her BNP Paribas Open breakthrough last spring, but is also ready to embrace another member of the family.
"It was my first time playing at a tournament like this. There were so many people watching. The atmosphere, even just walking around the halls here, it's just completely different.
"But it was fun. It would be funner if I had won, but..."