NAOMI OSAKA: ‘EVERYBODY ON THIS PLANET CAN LEARN FROM THAT GIRL’

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Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Bill Simons

When IT asked Naomi Osaka’s coach, Sascha Bajin, to describe his student in just one phrase, he replied, “Beautifully different.” After all, the US Open champ floats free in her own dreamy world of wonder. She’s a fresh breeze in a sometimes stale world – smart and witty, self-conscious and shy (and she confides that she fights depression). After she’d won Indian Wells, she admitted, “I didn’t know that I’d won…So then I was sort of, like, Caveman Spongebob.”

In New York, tennis’ favorite zen master and valley girl, the spontaneous, open Osaka, again dazzled. Here’s a Naomi sampler:

• Her coach told IT, “What I really like about Naomi is that she’s somehow preserved her innocence. If she’s sad, she’s going to show it. If she’s happy, she’s going to show it. There’s no fake emotion…It’s just very raw and pure…Everybody in this room and on this planet can learn a lot from that girl…I believe the more open and honest we are, and if we show vulnerability sometimes and show who we truly are, the better this world is going to be. All that fake emotion, I’m not a fan of it. I believe that Naomi’s a star for that.”

• After Osaka cried when she achieved one of her goals, to reach a Slam quarterfinal, Billie Jean King tweeted, “@Naomi_Osaka, I’m terribly sorry you were teased for crying…Never, ever be afraid to be your authentic self, #champion.”

• Osaka noted that she “did a whole report on Serena in third grade. I colored it and everything. I said, I want to be like her.” She confided she’d always dreamed of playing Serena in a Slam final. When asked how the dream came out, she quipped, “I didn’t dream to lose.” Osaka said that after she won, “Serena was being so nice to me and I started crying and couldn’t stop. The thing that started making me cry was her saying she was proud of me. From there I couldn’t stop crying. Then I saw my mom and everyone in the box and it kept getting worse.”

As for her thoughts on Serena, Naomi said, “I’m always going to remember the Serena I love…[the final] doesn’t change anything. She was really nice to me…I don’t see what would change…when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again.”

• Naomi said she chose her coach Sascha “because he twisted his ankle within the first five minutes of practice. I was like, Yup, this guy right here, he’s going to be great (laughter)…He’s really positive and upbeat. That’s really important because I tend to be down on myself a lot.”

• An Italian reporter said, “Your last name is Osaka. You were born in Osaka…How come your last name is the same as the city?” Are you ready? Naomi replied, “We’re recycling a joke from 2014 [which she made to IT]. Everyone who was born in Osaka, their last name is Osaka.”

• After being told that she hadn’t looked nervous in the Open final, Naomi said, “I’m actually super nervous all the time. I guess I’m a really good actor. Maybe I should go into acting. This morning I woke up really early and I was just sweating and thinking, ‘I’m going to throw up.’” Up to three minutes before the final, Naomi was calling her older sister Mari in Paris, who tried to loosen her up by speaking about “random stuff” and showing her pictures of baguettes. Naomi joked, “I guess she finally did something as an older sister.”

• When IT asked whether she can retain her fresh quality and not buy into all the hype, Osaka said, “When you said ‘fresh quality’ I went to this image of me in a Ziploc bag. It’s very hard for me to not be the way I am. When people say that people change, I don’t think that will ever happen to me – mainly because of the people that surround me. I think I’ll retain the fresh quality.”

• Every tennis player has incredible internal monologues, but we have never heard a more detailed explanation of this phenomenon than from Naomi, who says she often fights with herself. Then, sounding like Peanuts character Charlie Brown, she shared her thought process when facing a second serve. “In my mind, before she hits the serve, I’m thinking, ‘Do not hit this down the line. Don’t go for it,’ right? And then there’s a part of me that’s, like, ‘But if I hit this down the line, there’s a 50/50 chance it’ll be a winner and I could win the point easy.’ I’m arguing with myself: ‘Do it, don’t do it, do it, don’t do it.’ And then the ball comes and I hit it down the line and it goes in the net. I’m, like, ‘Why did I do that?’ That happens a lot.”

• After a reporter referred to Naomi’s friends, Osaka replied, “What friends?…I literally only have one friend that I’m actually completely, like, myself with. I feel bad for her sometimes.”

• When asked about the sacrifices her family has made, Naomi said, “My mom was always working…I rarely saw my mom unless it was dinnertime. Then she would go to work. Just that she’s here now and she’s not working anymore means a lot.”

• When asked if she was going to buy anything with her $3.8 million in prize money, Osaka said her biggest gift would be “when I see my sister, because she’s going to Tokyo too.”

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