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‘Humbled’ Osaka reveals pressure of being number one

Naomi Osaka with the trophy after winning the Beijing title against Ashleigh Barty © AFP / NOEL CELIS

BEIJING, China, Oct 7Naomi Osaka has opened up on the immense pressure she placed on herself earlier this year that contributed to a slump in form and the loss of her top ranking.

The 21-year-old Japanese continued her late season resurgence Sunday with victory over current number one Ashleigh Barty in Beijing’s China Open final.

It meant back-to-back WTA Tour titles for Osaka, who won the Australian Open in January, but then failed to match those high standards at the next three Grand Slams.

“I think this dip that I had really humbled me, it made me very motivated to be here right now,” she said after coming back from a set down to defeat Australia’s Barty.

Osaka, toppled as number one by Barty in June and now ranked third, said that after winning in Melbourne “I honestly was counting the ranking points.

“I was too stats-oriented after I won the Australian Open because there was this big thing about you’re number one now.

“Then I felt like I shouldn’t lose a match after that.”

Osaka, who burst to the fore by beating Serena Williams to win the 2018 US Open, said that she is trying to “care” a little less to take the pressure off.

It is a mindset that helped her triumph in her home Pan Pacific Open last month, but was not in evidence in the early stages against Barty.

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Osaka said that she was so desperate to win the Beijing final that she was in tears as she lost the first set, although she managed to hide it well and recovered her poise.

“Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever feel the same way that I felt again right after Australia,” she said of the sky-high expectations she placed on herself.

“There’s no way, no way that’s possible.”

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