Osaka relaxed, Kvitova finds silver lining

  • Leigh Rogers

If Naomi Osaka is feeling any pressure as the defending Australian Open champion, she is not showing it.

The 22-year-old was in a playful mood in her pre-tournament media conference on Saturday. She made jokes about her age – “I feel old … it’s a struggle waking up, you know?” she said with a big smile – and weaved in a reference to her offseason meeting with pop idol Beyonce. 

Osaka explained her calm disposition came from her experience of defending a Grand Slam title last season. She made the fourth round in New York in 2019 – and later admitted the intense spotlight was difficult to handle.

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Osaka will defend her crown at a major for the second time in Melbourne

“I think I'm definitely more relaxed now compared to the US Open,” she noted. 

“I think I learned a lot there, just in a way of handling my nerves and what to expect. Definitely I'm glad I was able to experience everything that I experienced. I think heading into this tournament, I'll be more prepared.”

‘I feel like now I appreciate more every single win because I know what it took to get it’
Naomi Osaka

Osaka credits her 2019 experiences for helping her mature both on and off the court. 

“I do feel like I'm a bit more seasoned, even though I'm still relatively young, per se. But I think every year I get more comfortable on the tour, so hopefully that somewhat translates into my matches,” she said.

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“I feel like last year I was young. I was just this young kid that was going out. Like, my goal was to win, and I wasn't going to let anything stop me. I feel like now I appreciate more every single win because I know what it took to get it. Of course, I want to win every match and I want to go out there and do that. That's what I'm here for.”

The world No.3 begins her title defence against Czech Marie Bouzkova in the opening match at Rod Laver Arena on Monday. 

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Osaka has relished the opportunity to practice this week on the court where she overcame Petra Kvitova in a thrilling three-set final last year to seize the world No.1 ranking. 

“It was really cool. I just immediately had flashbacks of last year,” Osaka said of her return to Rod Laver Arena.

“I'm just super happy to be back here. Hopefully I can play well.”

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For Kvitova, her return to Melbourne Park evokes bittersweet memories.

“It took me a while to get over the loss,” the world No.8 admitted of the 2019 final.

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Despite her defeat, AO2019 was a success for Kvitova

Yet the resilient 29-year-old is also proud of last year’s run – which marked her best result at Melbourne Park and was her first Grand Slam final appearance since returning from a career-threatening hand injury in 2017. 

“After so many years, being in the final, it's a great achievement,” Kvitova said. 

“I should take it very positive. Even now when I'm here, it's really feeling very nice and I do have the best memories.”

Kvitova faces Czech compatriot Katerina Siniakova in the opening round on Monday.