Naomi Osaka faces Dominika Cibulkova at Pan Pacific Open in Japan as nerves over her new life begin
US Open champion returns to court in Tokyo before tournaments in Wuhan, Beijing and Hong Kong, with reality sinking in that things will never be the same
Naomi Osaka has admitted she is “a little nervous and a little excited” about her new life as a grand slam champion as she gets back to her day job at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo.
The 20-year-old has been on a whirlwind media tour of talk shows in the United States and press conferences for Japanese sponsors since beating Serena Williams in the US Open final on September 8.
After a first-round bye, third seed Osaka will be in unknown territory when she steps on court to face Dominika Cilbulkova on Wednesday as Japan’s first major singles champion.
But she said: “I’m very grateful for this experience and I’m looking forward to the rest of the month in Asia.”
After Tokyo come Wuhan, Beijing and the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open for Osaka, as she looks to solidify a spot in what would be her first season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore.
“My family and my sister will be there too, so I’m just trying to enjoy but also refocus on what’s ahead,” added Osaka, who is ranked number four in the Race to Singapore.
“My next goal in the immediate future is to qualify for Singapore. But also just stay focused and keep working with my team to improve my game.”
Osaka has confirmed her place in Hong Kong, which runs from October 6-14 at Victoria Park.
It was in Hong Kong last year she showed a glimpse of what was to come with an impressive second-round win over seven-time major singles champion Venus Williams.
“I’m very excited to be returning to the Hong Kong Tennis Open this year, thank you for inviting me,” Osaka said.
“I just want to thank the fans for coming out to watch the matches. Their support means a lot. I hope to be able to play my best and enjoy the game.
“I really enjoyed every minute of being on the court during the US Open and it feels good to be having fun again while I’m playing. So I hope that will show in my matches in Hong Kong.”
Reflecting on her stunning triumph in New York, Osaka still seems to be pinching herself.
“I always dreamed of one day playing Serena in a final, so I’m very grateful to have had that experience while also becoming the first champion for Japan – it means a lot,” she said.
One of the most impressive aspects of Osaka’s victory was how at just 20 years old she kept a cool head in what must have been an emotionally-draining match.
Williams was controversially docked a point and then a game by umpire Carlos Ramos for three separate code violations in the second set, sparking a debate in the world of tennis.
The 23-time grand slam singles champion accused Ramos of sexism, calling him “a liar” and “a thief” after he initially gave her a warning for receiving coaching from Patrick Mouratoglou.
“I tried to keep my back turned and keep my focus on the match,” Osaka said. “During the whole tournament I fought for every point in every match, so I just kept telling myself to focus on the ball and keep fighting.”