Naomi Osaka said that she thought she just wanted to give Victoria Azarenka a run for her money when trailing by a set and a break down in the US Open final. Fourth seed Osaka completed a turnaround from that point to win the match in three sets and clinch her third Major title.
“I just thought to myself to be positive, don’t lose 6-1, 6-0, hopefully give her a slight run for her money. Yeah, I just sort of ran with that line of thinking,” Osaka said.
The 22-year-old said thinking time during the coronavirus lockdown, which coincided with protests across the United States over the police killing of black man George Floyd, had led to her political awakening.
“I would definitely say it’s been an important few months,” Osaka told reporters after coming from a set down to beat Azarenka 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“For me, my life was always go-go tennis-wise, especially after the previous US Open that I won (in 2018). It definitely accelerated things, and I’ve never had a chance to slow down.
“The quarantine definitely gave me a chance to think a lot about things – what I want to accomplish, what I want people to remember me by. I came into this tournament, or these two tournaments, with that mindset.”
Watch the videos of her post-match speech and press conference below:
Here’s a transcript of her post-match interview (courtesy: US Open):
Q. I know you got asked about it a lot during the tournament, your activism. Reflecting back more on the two weeks, how did you manage to pull it all off?
Osaka: I feel like definitely there were a lot of hard times, especially being in the bubble. You sort of overthink a lot of things.
I think I just got through it because during quarantine I wanted to, you know, set myself up to possibly win this tournament. I felt like I just worked so hard, I wanted to give myself an opportunity. I wanted more people to say, you know, more names, so...
Q. You’ve been through a lot of tight three-setters in the past. Where does this one rank? What did it tell you about yourself in terms of your competitiveness?
Osaka: Yeah, I mean, for me, I don’t really remember all the three-set matches that I’ve played. I know that this one’s really tough mentally because it is the finals of a slam.
I know in the third set I lost my serve. I think you could see that I was very nervous. But I’m glad I was able to finish it out.
I’m really not sure what ranking it is. But I would say my competitiveness, of course I’m very competitive. It’s something that I’ve had since I was younger.
Q. You said when you laid down on the court, you wanted to be safe. You were down there for quite a while. What were you thinking about as you lay on that court?
Osaka: Yeah, I mean, I was thinking about all the times I’ve watched the great players sort of collapse onto the ground and look up into the sky. I’ve always wanted to see what they saw.
For me, it was really an incredible moment. I’m really glad I did it.
Q. How do you feel about this one compared to 2018? You said you don’t dwell on past matches. With the controversies of that previous one, and now winning it a second time, how does this one feel?
Osaka: I mean, this one feels different overall because of the circumstances I’m under. I wasn’t in a bubble last time. There were a lot of fans last time.
Yeah, I feel like, you know, in the end all I focus on is what I can control on the tennis court. That’s what I did last time. I feel like that’s what I did this time.
Q. You already retweeted the photo of yourself wearing the mask onto court. Did you ever think about wearing the mask during the trophy ceremony? Are you planning on playing the French Open?
Osaka: Yeah, I did think about wearing a mask during the trophy ceremony, but they said not to wear a mask. I just did what they told me to do.
And French Open? I was planning to play when I came here, but I guess I’ll see what happens.
Q. How will you celebrate this win?
Osaka: Yeah, I guess I’ll celebrate this win just by I guess processing it more. I think the last two times I wasn’t able to process it. I’m just surrounded by my team, people that I like, love (smiling).
Yeah, I feel like hopefully the more times I win Grand Slams, I’ll be able to, you know, celebrate better.
Q. When you think about this summer, this was supposed to be the summer of the Olympic Games, and when tennis got shut down, you got a chance to do things you don’t ordinarily do. Looking back, would you say it’s an important past few months for you?
Osaka: Yeah, I would definitely say it’s been an important few months. For me, my life was always go, go tennis-wise, especially after the previous US Open that I won. It definitely accelerated things, and I’ve never had a chance to slow down.
The quarantine definitely gave me a chance to think a lot about things, what I want to accomplish, what I want people to remember me by. For me, I came into this tournament, or these two tournaments, with that mindset.
I think it definitely helped me out.
Q. Talking about the championship ceremony from two years ago, how much different was it?
Osaka: I don’t really think about the past. Honestly, what’s in my mind right now is what happened, like, an hour ago. It’s different just because I feel like I’m a different person than I was back then. So if that answers your question.
Q. During the summer you said the biggest thing you wanted to do was to grow and to lessen the regrets that you have. Do you think you’ve done it during this time at the US Open? Talk about the growth you’ve gone through.
Osaka: Yeah, I think I definitely did that. I feel like a very good and recent example is the first set and the second set of the match that I played today. I think I could have easily faded away, but I really wanted to fight, just compete.
I don’t know. Honestly, there wasn’t really another thought in my mind. I wasn’t really thinking about winning, I was just thinking about competing. Somehow I ended up with the trophy.
Yeah, I feel like I’ve definitely tried to mature. I wasn’t really sure the process that I was going to have to take. But I feel like, you know, the lessons that I learned with life definitely developed me as a person more.
Q. I saw you running pretty well after the problem that forced you to retire a few weeks ago. Before the French Open, do you still wear that bandage so that you can hit it 100 times with your left fist?
Osaka: I don’t know. I haven’t gotten a full rest. I guess I’ll see what happens or how it feels when I get a rest.
Q. What things have you been reading or watching or been listening to that formed how you think about racial and social justice?
Osaka: Honestly, I’ve read a lot into Haitian history. My dad always talks about that. For me, my boyfriend’s really like into reading a lot, so he’s been passing me books.
Yeah, I would just say for me I get most of my information – I try not to get most of my information from the news. I try to form my own opinion sort of.
Q. It seemed like in the first set it was kind of a slow start. There was one moment when you tossed your racquet to the side. Could you take us through that moment, what you were thinking, and how it changed in the second and third sets?
Osaka: Yeah, I think in the first set I was so nervous, I wasn’t moving my feet. I felt like I was not playing – not that I expect myself to play 100%, but it would be nice if I could even play, like, 70%. But, yeah, I just felt like I was too much in my own head.
Then in the second set, of course I was down early, which really didn’t help me out. I just thought to myself to be positive, don’t lose 6-1, 6-0, hopefully give her a slight run for her money.
Yeah, I just sort of ran with that line of thinking.
Q. Seven different masks you have worn drawing attention to the stories of seven people who have been tragically killed in America. Some of the families have even sent you thank you messages. Would you be willing to meet with families and talk with them once the tennis season is over?
Osaka: Yeah, I mean, definitely. I feel like for me I learn more through experiences. Everyone sort of thinks they know, or I actually don’t want to know how they’re feeling or how they felt during the process. For me, I feel like sharing stories and hearing people’s experiences is very valuable, so...
Q. I assume you received quite a lot of messages already. Which is the one that you actually enjoyed the most, the one that makes you most proud?
Osaka: For me, it’s always my mom or my dad. Today it was my mom, because apparently my dad went on a bike ride immediately after I won. I think maybe I gave him a bit of stress.
Yeah, it’s always my parents. Every time I win, I hope that I make them happy. My mom, especially here in New York, I have so many memories of her waking up at 4 in the morning, catching the bus, catching the train. I know all the sacrifices she made. Hopefully I can repay her one day.
(Naomi’s answers to questions in Japanese.)
Osaka: Yeah, I mean, I feel like two years ago I maybe would have folded being down a set and a break. But I think, you know, all the matches that I played in between that time shaped me and made me or forced me to mature more. Especially all the matches that I’ve played here were very tough.
So, yeah, I think definitely, you know, I’m more of a complete player now. I feel like I’m more aware of what I’m doing.
I honestly don’t remember because I don’t remember the match to that specifics. I do know that, you know, in the first set I thought she was playing great. Honestly, I felt like there was nothing I could do.
In the second set I just kept trying for every point.
I would say a really important game was definitely the game that I broke her in the third set. I’m glad that I did it earlier on because I felt like, you know, later down the line, it would have gotten really tight for me.
You know, I feel like for me, I came into this bubble in these two tournaments with the feeling of being grateful that I can even play. I was reading reports that they were considering not holding the Open. So for me, I was just very open-minded. I just wanted to really fight.
But I would say the thing that I learned was just no matter what happens, in every match I have an opportunity. It’s up to me to see the opportunity and to take it or not.
Yeah, I mean, for me, I feel like everything sort of pushed me to be better. I think I played some really good tennis this week, and I can be happy about that. I also think, you know, everything off the court was definitely building up. I had some moments where I was very stressed out. Being inside the bubble, you can’t even go out. It was definitely a little bit sad sometimes.
But I think all in all it’s the person that’s very mentally strong. For me, it’s one step forward because I always wanted to be that type of person.
Yeah, I don’t really think there can be a new Naomi or an old Naomi. I only think I can improve on myself. So every let’s say failure that I have is something to learn from. Honestly, like, I was learning a lot during all these matches that I played in the Open.
I learned a lot I think the most playing against Marta because I felt like I behaved terribly. I just kept trying to be more positive from that point on, and I think it worked really well for me.
(About the late Kobe Bryant) Yeah, I mean, for me, I feel like at this point there are certain things that I do that I hope can make him proud. It’s, like, keeping his legacy alive for me. I think it’s amazing how one person can inspire so many people. Everyone has a really great story about him just being kind, spreading warmth.
For me, I don’t know. I wasn’t expecting this. It’s kind of sad.
For me, I just want to be the type of person that he thought I was going to be. He thought I was going to be great, so hopefully I will be great in the future. Only time will tell. But, yeah.
Transcript courtesy US Open / ASAP Sports
With AFP inputs