MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Reaching the final in consecutive Grand Slams after winning the U.S. Open last year seems a “bit unreal” for Naomi Osaka, but the Japanese 21-year-old said her hard work in the off-season was bearing fruit.
Osaka reached the fourth round at Melbourne Park in 2018 in her third appearance at the year’s opening Grand Slam. This time she has become the first Japanese to reach the final, after defeating Karolina Pliskova 6-2 4-6 6-4 in the semi-finals on Thursday.
“It’s a little bit unreal,” she told reporters after her victory. “At the same time I realise the work that I put in during the off-season.
“Every match that I played, I tried my best. It just felt like it was a continuous effort.
“It’s sort of the reality I am in right now, so I can only keep going forward from here.”
Having cleared the hurdle of winning her first Grand Slam title in New York last year, Osaka said her experience and confidence was helping her break new ground.
“I think for me it’s experience. I’ve been in the third round. I was stuck there for two years,” she said.
“As soon as I could break away from that, now I’m here again, I think it’s just experience and a confidence issue for me.
“I would love to say I’m that good, but literally I’m playing the best players in the world, and I’ve been playing three sets most of the time. It’s more like a battle of will at this point.”
Osaka said playing at the Grand Slams was something she dreamt of as a child and performing her best at this stage is the highest motivation.
“You guys know that I love Grand Slams,” she said. “This is, like, a place where I think it’s worth all the training.
“When you’re little, you watch the Grand Slams, you watch all the players play, like, the legendary matches here.
“For me this is the most important tournament. There’s only four of them a year, so of course I want to do the best that I can here.”
Osaka’s title clash against double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova will also decide the next number one in women’s tennis, with the winner replacing Romanian Simona Halep, who has held the spot for 48 consecutive weeks.
“Of course that’s a very big deal for me. It’s one of the biggest goals that I had I guess playing the quarters, then hearing that it’s possible,” said Osaka, who would become the first Japanese player to hold the No. 1 ranking if she wins on Saturday.
“My main goal is winning this tournament. I think the ranking comes after that. I tend to do better if I focus on one goal.”
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by Hugh Lawson