Naomi Osaka has learned a lot about dealing with expectations in 2019.
The Japanese cemented her star status with a second straight grand slam title at the Australian Open in January having clinched her maiden major at the 2018 US Open.
But she struggled with the attention that came with being world No.1 and came up short in the year’s other three grand slams.
Osaka went nearly eight months without winning a title, but two victories in two consecutive WTA Tour events have given her serious momentum for the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China.
So what’s the secret behind Osaka’s uptick in form?
“I think (my) mindset,” she told CNN. “I think I’m more confident in myself than I was before.
“Before I would have had a little bit of self-doubt, which I still do, but this time, not as much.”
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Coping with the pressure
Osaka’s Australian Open triumph on top of her victory over Serena Williams at Flushing Meadows made her the hottest property in tennis, but her flame flickered as she lost in the third round of the French Open, in the first round of Wimbledon and in the quarterfinals of the US Open.
However, she insists her mid-season slump only strengthened her resolve to fight her way back.
“I actually had this dip after I became No. 1 because I couldn’t really handle it too much,” said Osaka, who parted company with coach Sascha Bajin, shortly after winning the Australian Open
“I won the two grand slams, had the dip and then suddenly everyone counted me out of it a little bit.
“And then I was thinking to myself I didn’t want to be the person that fades away. And whatever happens, I want to leave some sort of legacy.”
Giving it 100 percent
Having had some time to reflect on her poor run of results, Osaka says she has found renewed enjoyment from tennis.
“Enjoy what you’re doing, no matter what it is,” added the 22-year-old.
“After I lost in the US Open this year earlier than I wanted to, I just meditated on it and I thought, ‘There isn’t anything I’d rather be doing than playing tennis.’ So I have to give it 100 percent all of the time and now I’m here, so obviously it worked out.”
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Osaka carried her recent good form into her opening group match at the WTA Finals to beat world No. 6 Petra Kvitova 7-6 (7-1) 4-6 6-4.
The WTA Finals features the top eight players competing in round-robin format before a knockout stage for a share of a record $14 million purse and a first prize for the undefeated champion of $4.725 million.