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February 18, 2021

Naomi Osaka

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Press Conference

N. OSAKA/S. Williams

6-3, 6-4

THE MODERATOR: This will be Naomi's only prefinal press conference today. Naomi's coach Wim Fissette will come in at 12:00 tomorrow to talk to the press.

Q. The start of that match, you looked a bit nervous. What changed it? What got you on that roll that eventually won you the match?

NAOMI OSAKA: Yeah, I was definitely really nervous. I don't know. It's very intimidating to serve for the first game and see her on the other side of the net.

For me, I felt like I just started making way too much unforced errors because I was worried about what she would do if I were to hit a soft ball.

Yeah, I think when it was like 2-0, I was just telling myself to control what I can control and try to play within myself instead of thinking about what she would do or anything like that.

Q. Why was it intimidating to see her on the other side of the net?

NAOMI OSAKA: (Laughter) Sorry.

Because I've grown up watching what she does to people's serves when they're soft, I guess. I think that's also why my serve percentage was bad today, because I was thinking about what could happen if I didn't serve perfectly. I think that's what made me sort of overdo it.

Q. We've seen the resignation of Mori and the replacement of him by a woman in the Tokyo Olympic job. What does that mean to you as one of the most prominent Japanese woman and a woman in sport?

NAOMI OSAKA: I think for me, what it means is that there's a lot of things I think people used to accept the things that used to be said, but you're seeing the newer generation not tolerate a lot of things. I feel like it's really good because you're pushing forward, barriers are being broken down, especially for females.

We've had to fight for so many things just to be equal. Even a lot of things we still aren't equal. Yeah, I thought that was a good thing.

Q. I wanted to ask you about the game where you were up a set and a break and you served three double-faults, Serena got back to 4-All. Obviously the natural inclination for a lot of players would be to panic when something like that happens. You didn't lose another point in the rest of the match.

NAOMI OSAKA: I think for me match experience definitely helped me out. For me, this tournament I honestly haven't felt panicked until I played Muguruza, so I think that match really helped me.

There was a point when I got broken today, and I was going up to the line to return her serve, in my head I had all these thoughts about how she's the best server, I'm probably not going to be able to break her. But it is what it is.

Then I told myself to erase those thoughts and just to, like, in a way I was telling myself I don't care because I can only play one point at a time and I'm going to try my best to play every point as well as I can.

Q. What makes you so hard to beat in Grand Slam finals?

NAOMI OSAKA: I only played in three of them.

For me, I have this mentality that people don't remember the runners up. You might, but the winner's name is the one that's engraved.

I think I fight the hardest in the finals. I think that's where you sort of set yourself apart. It's the other person won as many matches as you did. It's something that I think -- I don't know, it's like the biggest fight.

Q. Is it an aspect that you're looking for that recognition to make sure your name is on the trophy, or is it the competitive drive? What determines what you just said?

NAOMI OSAKA: I don't know. When I was younger, I guess like two years ago or something, I felt like my goal was to make history, to like somehow at least have one thing that I was able to do, right?

I would say I wanted to be the first Japanese person to win a slam. I think that was my goal. Then there was more things to do. So for the me right now, of course it's nice to see your name on a trophy or your name on a wall. But I think bigger than that, I feel like I'm playing with a different purpose for this trip.

I think I'm just so happy with my team and we've been through this entire quarantine and we've been stuck together. I don't know, every day is really fun with them. I just want to do really well as a vessel for everyone's hard work.

Q. Can you talk about your potential opponents? Brady is ahead at the moment.

NAOMI OSAKA: Definitely, I played Brady in the semis of the US Open. It's easily one of my most memorable matches. I think it was just super high quality throughout. For me, it's not really surprising at all to see her in another semis or another finals. I don't know if they're still playing.

Yeah, it's definitely going to be really tough if I do play her.

I've played Muchova in the first round of Cincy or the earlier rounds of the Cincy tournament last year. For me it's the same thing. She's super athletic. Really hard to get the ball through her.

So, yeah, whoever wins, I'm looking forward to it because it's nice to see. I think this was my thing about this match. People that didn't watch tennis watched this match. I think for me it's really important to gather new people in and, like, grow the sport.

For me, it's really nice to see a first-time, like, person in a slam.

Q. If it is Jennifer Brady, will the US Open match, one of the best of the year last year in women's tennis, will that come into your mind at all, whether before going out or during the match, do you think?

NAOMI OSAKA: Yeah, it probably will. I don't see how it could not. It's the only match that I've ever played her. But at the same time I haven't really watched many of her matches, but I do know that I play a little bit different now. I think my returns are better. I think I go -- I'm not going to expose myself (smiling).

Yeah, I think I just play different now. I can't fully base everything on that match, but definitely it's something to reference.

Q. You said Serena is one of your idols. When she hugged you after you won the match today, what were you feeling?

NAOMI OSAKA: Yeah, for me, I felt it's like always a surreal moment, just to see her in real life, like close up, because I rarely see her, to be honest. I think our practice times are different and stuff.

But, yeah, it's definitely a surreal thing, yeah.

Q. Talking about you playing a first-timer, can you think back to your first Grand Slam final, how you approached it, how you felt walking out the first time.

NAOMI OSAKA: So I honestly don't remember. For sure, I was nervous. I was stressed out. But at the same time I think I was really excited at the opportunity, at the chance to be able to win a slam.

I feel like that would be the emotions that my opponents would go through.

Q. There's no telling how much longer Serena will play. The fact that you had these matches with her, including two in slams, what does that mean to you?

NAOMI OSAKA: Yeah, I mean, it definitely means a lot. I think, of course, every time I play her, I feel like it's something I'll definitely remember a lot.

I don't know, it's kind of sad when you say it like that because for me, I want her to play forever. That's the little kid in me. But yeah...

Q. Since the tour restarted last August till now, how do you view this period, whether it's what you accomplished on court or what you've accomplished off the court? How do you view this period with respect to the rest of your career and what are you most proud of?

NAOMI OSAKA: For me, I think the thing that I'm most proud of is now mentally strong I've become. I used to be really up and down. For me, I had a lot of doubts in myself.

But I think, I don't know, the quarantine process and seeing everything that's going on in the world, for me it put a lot into perspective. Yeah, I mean, I used to weigh my entire existence on if I won or lost a tennis match. That's just now how I feel any more.

Q. What has been the key to your development to feel so mentally strong? What do you think it is about you that has gotten you to this point?

NAOMI OSAKA: I honestly think that it's just opening myself up more to my team, having longer talks with Wim before I go out, expressing the nerves that I feel instead of bottling it all up and trying to deal with it by myself.

I feel like just being secure in myself as a person and knowing that the people that I love will still love me, like my family won't hate me because I lose a tennis match and stuff like that.

Q. You reached your first Grand Slam final at 23 years old. Are you aware of your achievements or do you take it something as normal?

NAOMI OSAKA: Yeah, for me, I never view myself -- I don't know. I'm living the life, you know? It's hard to view what you're doing outside of your body. You know what I mean, if that makes sense? So I never really look at stats or achievements or anything like that. I'm the type of person that's always trying to go on to the next thing, which may be bad or good.

Yeah, I feel like maybe later in my life I'll appreciate the things that I've done more. But as of right now, I feel like I'm chasing records that can't be broken no matter how hard I try. So, yeah, I think it's the human trait of not being satisfied.

Q. The Lakers jacket that you're wearing, is that because you're an L.A. resident now? Is that because of your admiration from Kobe that you've talked about in the past? Has it become just something there that keeps you warm?

NAOMI OSAKA: No, actually for me, I've been wearing my, like, Nike hoodie for most of the tournament, even the tournament before that.

I don't know. For today I felt like I needed some extra strength, so yeah. That's kind of why I'm wearing this.

Q. I am writing about surrounding yourself by excellence to achieve your own goals. Do you believe in that concept and do you feel it in the people around you, whether it's your boyfriend, anyone around you who you feel inspires you?

NAOMI OSAKA: Yeah, I definitely think that's a really good, like, way of thinking. For me, I feel like it's hard to be inspired by people that aren't inspiring, or it's hard to be a hard worker when you're surrounded by lazy people.

In that context I feel like, yes, I like to be surrounded by people that constantly push me. Like Yutaka. He pushes me a lot. In a way, I think in the beginning of our relationship I felt a little bit pressure because I wasn't sure, like, if I was going to be able to do well. You know what I mean? This is before New York.

But, yeah, I feel like everyone wants me to do well. Of course, I want myself to do well. But in a way it's sort of like a gentle pushing. As long as I try my best, everyone will be okay kind of thing.

(Naomi's answers to questions in Japanese.)

NAOMI OSAKA: Yeah, I think for me, I've been really working hard on my returns. During the off-season, this is something that was probably the number one priority. It was really tough to play against her and know that she's probably going to ace me, but I have no, like, control over it.

I think the balls that I could get back, I thought I did pretty well neutralizing it, hitting it in the middle. That's something that we practiced. On my own serve, I didn't think I did that well. I think I could have had a higher first-serve percentage. But I'm happy that I wasn't getting completely crushed on my second serves.

Yeah, I think I'm just comparing it to my other matches. I feel like I hit a lot of double-faults today, though it's probably from the pressure that she emits. I'm not sure. There's a lot of unknown things.

But, yeah, for me the biggest thing if I could redo this match, I would want my serve to be better.

Yeah, I think definitely for me today was really fun. I couldn't imagine it without fans, though maybe there's like an alternate universe where we didn't have fans.

But I thought it was really fun. I actually never hear the sound machine whenever there aren't fans, when fans are cheering or getting really pumped up. I thought it was really nice.

I don't know. I have a lot of memorable matches, yeah. Sorry (smiling).

So there's a really interesting story behind that. For me, I haven't really seen like a lot of news, like up front news. I've only seen things about the attacks on like Instagram and stuff like that. I found it really interesting. I had a Chinese restaurant that I really liked in Melbourne, and I really liked going there. But then I found out it got shut down because people stopped eating, like, Chinese food because they thought it would give them COVID. It's kind of like stuff like that.

I don't really think it matters for me. I'm not sure if it's an advantage or a disadvantage because I feel like I might be going into that match as a favorite no matter who I play. So that would be a disadvantage for me because I might feel pressure.

You never know, my opponent might come out swinging, feeling like they have nothing to lose. I might feel weighed down by the thought of not wanting to lose in a slam final. So there's a lot of things like that that I have to take into consideration. But I don't really feel too stressed out about it right now. Maybe it will hit me later.

I mean, I can't really say there's a (indiscernible) thing that Wim's told me. Okay, the biggest thing that I think Wim's taught me is that after Fed Cup, I lost really bad, and for me that was really, like, life-changing. He just told me my life won't change if I lose, it can only get better from winning. That's something that I can't really fully control. But as long as I try my best, my percentages or my odds of winning will increase. So yeah.

Yeah, I didn't eat Japanese last night because the restaurant I usually order from was closed. Then my backup option was open, but I just really felt sick of eating the same thing every day, so I kind of took a chance with the Greek. But it was really good.

But I'm probably going to go back to Japanese for the final (smiling). It was probably just a one-time thing.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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