Osaka finds appropriate sparkle, on and off court

Japan’s Naomi Osaka in action during the round-robin match match against Caroline Garcia at the opening day of the WTA Rising Stars Invitational tournament held at OCBC Arena on 22 October 2015. Caroline won with score 4-1, 1-4, 4-1.
The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - Two things surprised Naomi Osaka this past week, during the young tennis player's stay in Singapore.

First, not that she beat favourite Caroline Garcia 3-5, 5-4, 4-1 yesterday to win the WTA Rising Stars Invitational tournament, but that she even managed to make the final.

The Japanese had won just one out of her three matches in the round-robin stage, but got through on the basis of a superior win-loss record in the four-strong field.

Second, that her sister and mother delivered on the fashion front. The former - whom she said has a penchant for colourful and loud Harajuku-style fashion - found her a nice dress to wear for the player party, while the latter located sparkly heels for the occasion.

Osaka, whose father is Haitian, made a stunning comeback yesterday at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, saving four championship points to force a decider in the alternative format event.

She said: "I only won one match (before the final), so I was very thankful for the opportunity.

"In the beginning, I was really nervous because... I've never even practised on this court."

But having already been beaten by Garcia in the round-robin stage, Osaka was determined not to let it happen again.

"I don't like losing to the same person over and over again," she said.

Getting a coveted spot to play as part of the event running alongside the prestigious season finale of the women's tour has been an experience like no other for Osaka, who just turned 18 a week ago and is ranked No. 202 in the world.

She said: "It was kind of busy. I don't usually do certain stuff, like this player party where I had to dress up.

"I don't usually dress up and wear high heels.

"Then I stayed awake until 11pm, and I usually go to sleep at 9pm."

Osaka's reward for winning the event yesterday was not simply the trophy, but also a meeting with Venus Williams in the players' lounge.

Wiliams is here as the first alternate for the singles event.

Recalling her starstruck moment, Osaka said: "I wasn't really talking. I was just kind of creeping her out. But she's really nice.

"I don't remember what we talked about because I was really freaked out."

The season, however, is not over for Osaka, who goes on to play three more WTA 125K tournaments in Asia.

All this in the hope of one day returning to the WTA Finals as what she describes as "an actual player".

Opening her arms wide to describe how much she wants to return to Singapore to play, she said: "I really want to come back. I haven't really explored Singapore. If I come back, not irresponsibly, but I kind of want to look around."

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