World No.2 Naomi Osaka reflects on what she's learned over the grass season as she readies to tackle her most challenging Slam.
WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen
June 30, 2019

WIMBLEDON, England - Naomi Osaka isn't thinking about winning the title at Wimbledon. At least not yet. The World No.2 is more focused on learning. 

The reigning US Open and Australian Open champion has the power game that is built to succeed on grass, but says her lack of experience on the surface makes it a daily challenge to learn how to best apply her game on the specialty surface. 

"If you ask me right now, I would say for me grass is the hardest surface to learn because I've played on clay, despite the fact that it was green clay when I was little," Osaka told reporters at Media Day ahead of Wimbledon.

"But I never played on grass until I was 16 or 17. Every day I learn something while I play here. You only technically play on grass for three weeks out of the year, opposed to the clay season. I just feel like my brain has to work way harder every day than the clay season."

"It's been kind of tough, especially since it's way more unpredictable than clay. But I feel like it should be good for me because it's very heavily reliant on the first serves, sort of being the first person to be aggressive.

"I've been kind of trying to learn every day. I think it's been a very humbling experience."

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Osaka practiced with Madison Keys over the weekend and found it to be another lesson for her always-processing mind. As opposed to Osaka, Keys is a grass-court stalwart, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist who has won two of her four titles on grass.

"She was serving and I don't think I'm a bad returner, but I would hit a return right at her feet and she would hit a winner off of that. I was like, this isn't right. I wasn't doing anything wrong but she was killing me 3-0 in like 7 minutes. I came back from that, but the first 7 minutes were terrible. 

"I know I wasn't doing anything wrong but she was just blowing me away. I don't think I've done that to anybody before. That level of talent, to me, is crazy. I don't know how other people see me from the other side of the net but that's what I was processing when I was hitting with her." 

"I was hitting with her and I was thinking she's so talented. She was doing stuff that's so impossible to do and she's doing it so easily and it's such a natural thing for her. 

"I was thinking, in essence, for me, people say that I'm talented, but when I was winning the Grand Slams it was because I was working hard. So I'm not a naturally talented person. I don't think I'm a naturally talented person. I think I'm supposed to be a hard worker. And that's what I learned from hitting with her today."

Osaka comes into Wimbledon with a chance to recapture the No.1 ranking she ceded to Ashleigh Barty two weeks ago after Birmingham. Barty's 12-match run through Roland Garros and Birmingham ended Osaka's 21-week run at the top of the game. With time to reflect now on her time at the top, Osaka said the experience was overwhelming.

"Mentally it was way more stress and pressure than I could have imagined," Osaka said. "I don't think there was anything that could have prepared me for that, especially since I'm kind of an overthinker.

"So, yeah, I think it's better for me now to be - I was going to say lower ranked, isn't that crazy - to be No. 2 here because the only upside is if you win the tournament, you're automatically No. 1. That, for sure, is a really big goal of mine. I don't have to think about defending the ranking or anything."

"I'm really happy for Ashleigh. She's super amazing. I think her whole story of how she quit and came back is super cool."

With the goal of retaking the No.1 on her mind, the key to Osaka's Wimbledon run will be to quickly apply her daily learnings on grass, while staying focused on the match ahead of her instead of the title. At Roland Garros last month, Osaka let the pressure and expectation get to her, exiting the tournament in the third round in a disappointing performance against Katerina Siniakova. 

"In Australia I felt normal, I felt like how I am now," Osaka said. "In the French, I wasn't even talking to you guys that much. I know you missed me," Osaka said. 

"I think in Australia, of course I wanted to win really bad, [but] I didn't know that I would win. It was only in the later rounds that that thought occurred to me.

"In the French I was just thinking about winning, which is something that I don't really do, especially on a surface that I don't typically have the best results on."

On the subject of learning, Osaka will need to quickly rebound from her 6-2, 6-3 loss to Yulia Putintseva in the Round of 16 at Birmingham. Osaka said the loss was a shock to her system. As luck would have it, the two square off in the first round at Wimbledon on Monday. 

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