Naomi Osaka - A breath of fresh air

Naomi Osaka (Supplied)
Naomi Osaka (Supplied)

Melbourne - Every so often a new face comes along; one that is very different in so many ways, who can also play at the highest level in tennis, similar to a breath of fresh air in a windowless room.

18-year-old Naomi Osaka appears to be one of these rare cases.

Naomi was born in Osaka, her father is from Haiti, her mother is Japanese and she currently lives with her family in the US (primarily Florida).

Naomi behaves like a typical teenager, not only dressing like one but also in the way she communicates. When referring to her love of Japanese culture she blurted out “I’m really introverted so I feel like I fit in there.”

She does spend time in Japan with some of the top coaches from the Japanese Tennis Association. Osaka is also currently in the process of learning Japanese.

Unsurprisingly, Japanese fans and the media have taken an instant liking to her. There have been large numbers of fans present at all of her matches to date and a very large contingent of Japanese media in attendance during her press conferences.

A fact not lost on Osaka.

“Yeah, it was actually like there was a lot of Japanese people and they were actually cheering for me. So I was like really happy. Yeah. Yeah. It’s really cool.”

Before Thursday's second round win against 18th-seeded Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, Osaka was ranked 127th in the world and that ranking appears to be in free-fall, predicted to drop into the 100s.

She was surprised to be referred to as being very cool and unemotional on the court.

“In my brain I’m going, oh my God, why, about like 90% of the time.”

In typical teenage style her next statement was a little contradictory.

”Well, okay, I don’t know. I feel like there’s something wrong with me because I don’t get excited or anything that much.”

After pre-qualifying for the Australian Open, Osaka is now through to the third round after defeating Svitolina in straight sets - 6-4, 6-4 - where she faces Victoria Azarenka next.

When asked about her views on the match, more teenage-like behaviour was on display.

“I actually didn’t know I was going to play her. So I’m kind of excited right now, though.”

Osaka revealed in her teenage way that she tries not to get too far ahead of herself when playing in tournaments.

“I never feel pressure from playing someone that’s supposed to be like better than me, sort of. I’m just going to go in there happy and hopefully try to pull off an upset.”

Would there be any chance she may change her expectations for the clash with the 2-time Grand Slam champion?

“I don’t really have any. I just want to play really good. I know that if I play good, then maybe I can win.”

As if we didn’t need any further confirmation that Osaka is a typical teenager she admitted to steering well clear of Facebook during tournaments.

“Yeah, I kind of just want to stay away while I’m at a tournament, because if I don’t, if someone says something mean, then I’m just like crying in the corner...”

I have to be honest, I kind of like her style!

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