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Armed with inner peace, Naomi Osaka hungry for more success

Reuters

Having tasted her first Grand Slam success at the U.S. Open last year, Naomi Osaka says she now has a “weird” feeling of wanting more after progressing to her first Australian Open semifinal on Wednesday.

Osaka was just 20 when she became Japan’s first Grand Slam singles champion by beating Serena Williams 6-2 6-4 in a controversial U.S. Open final in September.

She remained on course to add another Grand Slam title to her resume after blowing away Ukrainian Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-1 on Wednesday to set up a semifinal with Czech Karolina Pliskova in the year’s first Grand Slam.

“This is something that I have been working on a lot, which is trying to get deeper in tournaments more consistently. I think I have been able to do that,” Osaka told reporters.

“But for me right now, I just try to keep looking forward. So I’m not really satisfied — I am happy that I’m here, but at the same time I want to keep going. There are more matches to win.”

Osaka wrapped up her quarterfinal win in 1 hour and 12 minutes, becoming the first Japanese woman to reach the last four at the Australian Open since Kimiko Date in 1994.

The Australian Open was the first Grand Slam where Osaka got into the main draw through the qualifiers, doing so in 2016. While she knows she has progressed quickly she is far from satisfied.

“I already know that to be here is something that a lot of people want, and I know that a few months ago I would have given anything to be in the semifinals of a Slam,” she said.

“But it’s this weird feeling of you want to do the next big thing. And especially now that I won a Grand Slam, and I feel like I want to win another one, and I’m so close and I just want to keep going.”

Standing on the podium at the U.S. Open waiting to be handed her trophy after defeating Williams in a controversial final, Osaka heard only boos from an angry and frustrated crowd.

That prompted her to work more on the mental aspects of her game during the offseason.

“I feel right now most people know me for U.S. Open, right? And during (the) U.S. Open, I didn’t show any emotions most of the time,” said the No. 4 seed, who was born in Osaka but moved to the United States as a three-year-old.

“But then after that, I did show a lot of emotions. I got upset and then I threw my racket or stuff like that. I don’t really want to do that. I feel I play better when I’m calm.

“When I’m not calm, it just makes my life harder.

“. . . there is an inner peace I can tap into sometimes during my matches, and it’s kind of hard to get to but once I’m there it’s really easy. Not easy, but nothing can really bother me.

“So that’s just something I’m trying to learn how to do consistently.”