The 2018 US Open women’s singles champion is one win away from back-to-back Grand Slam titles, and the WTA's No. 1 ranking, after her 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 semifinal victory over No. 7 Karolina Pliskova at the Australian Open. Naomi Osaka, the No. 4 seed, became the first woman to follow up her maiden major title with a run to the final of the next Slam since Jennifer Capriati, who won both the Australian Open and Roland Garros in 2001.
After Osaka dominated the opening set and broke her big-serving opponent to begin set two, Pliskova found a new level to force the decider. The Czech stayed on song early in set three, to the tune of three break points in her first return game, but Osaka held on to spark a run of 10 straight points and regain command with a 3-1 lead. In a tense finish, the Japanese No. 1 saved one more break point, at 4-3, with an ace, and closed out the match with another – her 15th of the match – after a successful challenge confirmed her place in the final.
Osaka will now take on Petra Kvitova, who dismissed Danielle Collins in straight sets in the first semifinal. The match will take on an added significance, as the winner will also earn the title of world No. 1 for the first time in their career.
Here are five of the best from Osaka’s post-match press conference.
Q. Karolina said in her press conference you may have had the best game in your life. What went well in the game?
Naomi Osaka: Yeah, I mean, I don't necessarily think I played the best I've ever played. I mean, for me, what I take away from this is that I never gave up, and that's something that I'm really proud of myself for.
There are moments in the match where I thought, like, this is getting really close. I just thought I wouldn't forgive myself if I had, like, a little dip or a moment of accepting defeat.
Q. How big of a deal would it be for you to not just become No. 1, but to become the first man or woman from Japan to hold that ranking?
Naomi Osaka: Yeah, I mean, 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.
For me, 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.
Q. People who have had their breakthrough slam have found it hard to back up. Why do you think you've been able to?
Naomi Osaka: Yeah, I mean, everyone, the veterans from my press conferences, you guys know that I love Grand Slams. This is, like, a place where I think is 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.
Q. Years ago you said if you were good enough, experience didn't matter. You're 21, you've won a Slam, you're in your second straight Slam final. Is this experience or just that you're that good?
Naomi Osaka: Oh, be careful with that last sentence.
No, I think for me it's experience. I've been in the third round. I was stuck there for two years. 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 it's always felt like.
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.
Q. You usually have a bit of a muted celebration. Today with the drama and the praying and all that, can you walk us through the last few moments. Are you making a conscious effort of being more vocal or this is just happening?
Naomi Osaka: Yeah, I mean, for me, this entire match more than anything, it felt like we were equal. But I felt like for me, there are certain things that she's better than me at, right? I felt like I have to keep pumping myself up. Every time there's an opportunity or something doesn't go my way, I had to keep being very positive. That's what the c'mons were for.
The match point, it stressed me out when he called that ball out. Yeah, I honestly really didn't want to hit a second serve at that point. That's what all of that celebration was.