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Naomi Osaka aims for stellar finish to breakthrough season

Reuters, Kyodo

U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka said her breakthrough victory in New York last month still felt “bittersweet” and is hoping that a strong end to the season could help her to feel better.

Osaka’s triumph in the U.S. Open final was overshadowed by a row between her opponent Serena Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos, which resulted in the 23-time Grand Slam champion being docked a game and fined $17,000.

The 20-year-old Osaka was reduced to tears as she waited to be handed her maiden major trophy and an angry crowd at Flushing Meadows took out their frustration on Ramos.

“The memory of the U.S. Open is a little bittersweet,” Osaka said after a routine 6-4 6-3 win over Zarina Diyas in the China Open on Monday. She was scheduled to face Danielle Collins in the second round on Tuesday.

“The day after, I didn’t want to think about it because it wasn’t necessarily the happiest memory for me. I wanted to move on at that point.”

Osaka said her feelings after winning a first Grand Slam could be compared to eating green tea ice cream.

“When you bite into it, it’s sweet but also strong,” she commented. “That’s how that memory feels . . . of course, I’m happy I won a Grand Slam. I don’t think there’s anything that can take away from that. But I don’t know.

“I feel like not that when I look back on it that it’s a bad memory, but it was so strange, I didn’t want to think about it. I wanted to push it to the side.”

Osaka’s season, however, is far from finished.

On Tuesday, she became the third singles player to qualify for the season-ending WTA Finals Singapore, it was announced.

Osaka will compete in the Oct. 21-28 event at Singapore Indoor Stadium along with seven others, including French Open champion Simona Halep and Wimbledon winner Angelique Kerber.

The top eight singles players will play a round-robin format and the top eight doubles teams will compete in a knockout tournament with a $7 million total prize purse on the line.

Osaka withdrew from last week’s Wuhan Open in China, hours after losing to former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova in the Toray Pan Pacific Open final in Tokyo on Sept. 23.

“I was lucky Tokyo was so close (to the U.S. Open) because I could immediately focus on the next tournament,” Osaka added.

“I didn’t think too much about what was going on . . . so maybe if I did have that time, I’d be overwhelmed. . . . I’m still trying to take my mind off of it.”