Naomi Osaka explains why she is not keen on playing Ashleigh Barty and how she had to ‘dig deep’ in 2020

Naomi Osaka zoning in

She admits she “wouldn’t like to play” Ashleigh Barty in an Australian Open final as it would “stress her out the day before”, but Naomi Osaka does concede the match “would be fun”.

The good news for the three-time Grand Slam winner is she won’t face the world No 1 at the Gippsland Trophy this week as Barty is competing at the Yarra Valley Classic.

However, the chances of them meeting in the Australian Open are quite high and Osaka admitted in the lead-up to the Gippsland event that she doesn’t fancy playing against the Australian in the season-opening Grand Slam’s showpiece event.

“When I say I wouldn’t like to play her, I just know it’s going to be hard,” Osaka said. “It would be fun. I know there are people that I want to play that I know is going to be hard.

“Like I’d love to play [Bianca] Andreescu in a final. I think regardless of what I feel, I feel like the audience would have a lot of fun with that. I would love to play Iga [Swiatek].

“For me, it would be fun to play Barty, but it would stress me out. I think I would feel stressed out the day before.”

The world No 3 kicked off her 2021 season with a solid 6-2, 6-2 victory over Alizé Cornet in the second round and will face Britain’s Katie Boulter for a place in the quarter-final.

On the back of the enforced break in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 23-year-old admits she went through a tough time and was forced to make changes.

“I go into each tournament just trying to do the best that I can,” Osaka said. “I know that I have a really weird career in the way that I don’t really do that great at small tournaments, so I’m hoping to like fix that. I want to do well at every tournament that I play.”

“I feel like the last year changed me a lot. There were a lot of things I was struggling with, and I feel like during quarantine I really had to dig deep in myself and try to figure it out for myself. I feel like there’s a lot of people that had to go through that, and I’m just a person that you happen to ask questions to a lot.

“I think the me from last year is very different from the me this year. There’s a lot of things I think I learned last year, and even a lot of things that I do differently with my new team.

“I feel like for me, I just really trust them a lot, so I talk to them a lot about how I feel, and that’s not something that I used to do before.

“Also I’ve had a three-month-long off-season, so we definitely practiced a lot of things, and hopefully I’m able to do them well in my matches.”

“For me, it’s almost like a privilege to be able to be here right now because there’s so many things that are going on.

“Yeah, I would say that I’m more experienced. Maybe a year gave me more experience.”

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