BRISBANE, Australia - World No.5 Naomi Osaka is used to being the youngest person in the room. So the the reigning US Open champion certainly found herself as the experienced veteran compared to 18-year-old Australian qualifier Destanee Aiava at the Brisbane International on Tuesday night.
Playing her first match of the 2019 season, Osaka served well to ease through a 6-3, 6-2 win over the talented youngester. But Aiava, herself armed with a big serve and forehand but lacking so far in consistency, left an impression.
"I mean this was sort of like why I felt like I feel old a little bit because it was kind of like a younger me in a way," Osaka told reporters. "And I felt like when I was playing her she sort of matched my power, which was really surprising to me, because there are not that many people that can do that.
"So I'm really interested to see how she does like in the future."
Born in outside of Melbourne to Samoan parents, Aiava made waves in 2016 when she became the first player born in the 2000s to compete in the main draw of a Slam. Currently ranked No.247, she earned her spot in the main draw with a strong qualifying campaign. She saved match point against Mandy Minella in the second round of qualifying before earning convincing wins over Christina McHale (to qualify) and Kristina Mladenovic to book a showdown with Osaka.
"I've seen her every time I go to this Australian swing, like the Australian Open," Osaka said. "And then I watched her play [Simona] Halep [last year] in the first round. And I thought it was pretty amazing that she went to three sets and I didn't (Osaka lost in straight sets to Halep in the Round of 16).
"So, yeah. I've been watching her for a while."
"I mean I'm not going to be the one that is the mentor person that says, oh, you can do it or you can't. I feel like she's here already. She qualified. It's not like she got a wild card. She qualified and she won a round, and it's pretty obvious the potential that she has.
"And for me I feel like every person is different, and that's what is interesting because we all grow in separate ways and we all develop into different players. So for sure I think that she can do it. And it's more up to her than anyone else."
Asked if she had any advice to offer the Melbourne-born Sydney-based teen, 20-year-old Osaka laughed.
"Don't ask me for advice. That's my advice."
"No, I mean I would just say to just keep playing. For me, when I was her age I went through a lot of ups and downs. And that's normal. And then just suddenly -- it's not out of nowhere but kind of out of nowhere I had the 2016 when I was 18.
"So I think you can only just keep trusting the process. And when you're young, it's easy to forget that because you're so in the moment, but when you look back, it's like a gradual hill that you're climbing."