Ever since she stunned Serena Williams in the 2018 US Open final for her maiden Grand Slam title, Naomi Osaka’s cards have turned.
Entering the event—as the No. 20 seed—she had no expectations and, most importantly, no pressure.
But now, it’s a different story. With the lights and cameras on, fans rallying behind her—and others against her—it’s a whirlwind of pressure.
Osaka began 2019 on a great note, rallying past five seeded-players to claim her second career major at the Australian Open. With that incredible triumph, the 21-year-old took over the world No. 1 spot for the first time in her young career.
“I’ve never been No. 1 and a lot of people were talking about it and I think I let it get to my head a little bit” Osaka stated in an interview with FT.
In just a span of a few months, the way the tennis world looked at her was completely different. She was no longer a low seed who was glanced at every now and again. Instead, Osaka was leading the game and with that came expectations to win.
For the next seven months, the top Japanese player reached only one semifinal. In her first Grand Slam as the top seed, Osaka came close to becoming the second No. 1 seed in the Open Era to fall in the French Open’s first round, before falling the third round in straight sets. At Wimbledon, she was dismissed by Yulia Putintseva in the opening round.
But as the season comes to a close, Osaka’s momentum has picked up and she’s back to playing her game. Two weeks ago, the 21-year-old captured her first title since the Australian Open—on home soil—in Osaka, Japan. She avenged her Wimbledon loss to Putintseva en route to capturing the trophy.
This past week in Beijing, the relentless champion showed no mercy as she cracked Bianca Andreescu’s winning streak in the quarterfinal, defeated reigning champion Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinal, and ousted Ashleigh Barty in the final for the China Open trophy.
Osaka is currently on a 10-match winning streak and is back in the Top 3. She has also officially qualified for the WTA Finals in Shenzhen for the second consecutive year.
The 21-year-old seems to be enjoying the game and lifting the overwhelming pressure from herself and others off her shoulders. Will she bring this same mentality and play into 2020? Can we expect to see her keep the crown in Australia? Only time will tell.