Naomi Osaka has made waves at the Australian Open, with fans left in awe by the ruthless nature of her performances in the lead-up to Saturday night’s decider against Jennifer Brady.
In no match was this more evident than her crushing semi-final victory over Serena Williams – the 23-time major winner more accustomed to blowing opponents off court than being the one swept aside.
However, that is exactly what Osaka did with a power game that is arguably unrivalled in the women’s game and a level of consistency that suffocates her rivals.
Many observers have wondered just what makes Osaka tick, and what mental characteristics make the three-time grand slam champion the player that she is.
A recent interview with her Dutch coach Wim Fissette provides a fascinating insight into the secrets behind her success and what separates the 23-year-old from other players.
Fissette has mentored some of the greats of the women’s game such as Kim Clijsters, Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber.
But in an interview with Dutch Tennis Magazine in December – which has resurfaced online before Saturday night’s Australian Open final – Osaka’s coach says her “cold-blooded” nature makes her a force to be reckoned with.
Coupled with her unquestionable power, Fissette says Osaka’s ability to separate her emotions from the task in front of her on the tennis court, is second to none.
In her semi-final against Serena, the World No.3 quickly found herself 0-2 down but rather than let her sluggish start get to her, Osaka was able to turn the match on its head.
The Japanese star won nine of 11 service games against Williams and showed nerves of steel to close out the victory by claiming the last eight points of the match.
Where other players often tense up with the finishing line in sight, Osaka has the rare quality of being able to find another gear.
“Then there’s that cold-bloodedness,” Fissette said.
“That part is paired with her confidence. She has that within her, in her body and in her origins. Recently she sent out that beautiful tweet, where she said that whenever she doubts herself, she just remembers her ancestors and realises she is unbeatable.
Osaka’s tennis brain like a computer
Osaka’s coach also revealed an astonishing fact about the 23-year-old’s tennis brain and her ability to remember statistics during her matches, to help defeat opponents.
Fissette said Osaka explained to him that she kept tabs during matches about which sides of the court where the most successful.
“I didn’t understand what she was saying,” he said.
“So she continued, ‘I count the points I win when serving to the forehand and backhand. So when the moment is important I’ll always serve to the side that has given me most points’. Apparently she keeps track of statistics during her matches.”
He also admitted that Osaka’s natural physical qualities give her a distinct advantage over opponents.
“On a physical level, she’s on another level compared to 90 per cent of the players,” he said.
“She could face the most powerful opponents and remain completely unfazed. It has very little effect on her. But when she’s the one to crush the ball, everything is over.
“You can see how explosive her strokes and legs are. Her entire body is unbelievably strong. That’s a huge weapon. She trains a lot but a big part of it comes natural.”
Osaka goes into Saturday night’s final against Brady having never lost after reaching the last eight of a grand slam.
She is also riding a 20-match winning streak that dates back a year.
“I have this mentality that people don’t remember the runners-up,” Osaka explained.
“I think I fight the hardest in the finals. I think that’s where you sort of set yourself apart.”
Osaka is hot favourite against 22nd seed Brady, who is making her grand slam final debut after serving 14 days’ hard quarantine before the tournament, unlike other players who were allowed out of their hotel rooms to train.
Brady, 25, has not faced a higher-ranked player in her run to the final, helped by the exits of World No.1 Ash Barty and defending champion Sofia Kenin on her side of the draw.
Having not lost a set until her three-set thriller against Karolina Muchova in the semis, Brady knows she is in for a fight against a player she long believed was destined for stardom.
“We grew up playing junior local tournaments in Florida,” she said.
“I remember playing her, I was, like, ‘Wow, she hits the ball huge. She’s going to be good. She’s got something special.'”
Source: Andrew Reid