By John O’Brien
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Naomi Osaka has witnessed a huge change in her career after claiming a maiden Grand Slam title in 2018, but the rising star of women’s tennis will not be changing her quirky personality in media appearances that has endeared her to so many.
The 21-year-old Japanese stunned Serena Williams to capture an emotional U.S. Open triumph last month, before her humble yet idiosyncratic character garnered even more admirers in a slew of high-profile television interviews following that win.
Osaka’s stellar season has seen her rise to number four in the world rankings and also booked her a spot at the season-ending WTA Finals for the first time, a whirlwind ride she is loving as her public profile continues to grow.
“For me, I can’t change who I am. But I’ve been thinking… I wonder that people don’t show their personality versus people that do, like, people will dislike someone no matter what if they make up their minds,” Osaka told reporters on Saturday.
“So, for me, I never really thought about changing how I am versus, like, not showing too much.
“Like for example, if I didn’t act as weird as I am, right, if I was just, like, sort of like a robot with the yes-and-no questions, I feel like that wouldn’t really be true to myself or anything.
“So I haven’t really thought about changing my personality. Unless you really want me to. Then maybe I’ll consider it,” she added with a grin.
Osaka has fond memories of the Singapore venue hosting the WTA Finals for a fifth and final time next week, where she will return to an arena three years after she won the Rising Stars Invitational tournament on the same Indoor Stadium court.
“I just remember the Rising Stars event being my first big tournament sort of, like I have never played on a centre court that big before. So definitely it’s always in my memories,” she added of her 2015 victory over Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia.
Osaka has been drawn in the Red Group of the eight-woman event alongside Angelique Kerber, Kiki Bertens and Sloane Stephens, her predecessor as U.S. Open champion who she takes on first in round robin play on Monday.
“I’m not really used to round robins. But I also think it’s a really good thing, because if you happen to lose a match, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re out of the tournament,” Osaka added.
“You have other matches you can play and you can continue to, like, learn from the last match you have played. In this way, I think to make one tournament like this, it’s very exciting. I kind of want to see what happens.
“Yeah, I just feel like since it’s both our first time here, I don’t know. We both want to do well, so I think the match that we play is going to be very good,” she added of her opening contest against fellow WTA Finals debutante Stephens.
(Reporting by John O’Brien; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)