Osaka’s coach: Her enthusiasm to play is ‘beautiful to see’

Maybe Naomi Osaka is winning because she has a positive attitude, or maybe she has a positive attitude because she’s winning.

Either way, it’s working. Osaka won her 20th match in a row when she beat Serena Williams in the Australian Open semifinals, and she’ll play American Jennifer Brady for the championship Saturday in Melbourne.

“When her attitude is good, her mind is very clear what she needs to do, what she wants to do,” her coach, former Belgian player Wim Fissette, said Friday. “And then she plays well.”

Fissette has worked with Kim Clijsters, Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka. He began coaching Osaka in 2019, and said she surprises him every day with how well she handles the pressure that accompanies success.

Osaka, 23, won her third Grand Slam trophy at the U.S. Open in September. The win over Williams left her on the verge of yet another major title.

“Naomi was excited before the match,” Fissette said. “She was like when I bring my kids to the toy store, you know? Naomi was excited to go on court with Serena.

“It’s just beautiful to see, because a lot of times you feel the pressure, like you kind of maybe fear to lose. But her mindset is just looking at the positives, like, ‘This is exactly where I want to be. This is what I train for. This is the moment where I want to play my best tennis.’”

Fissette also praised Osaka’s mental approach regarding strategy. As an example, he said she noted that Williams’ forehand return became inconsistent late in their match, and took advantage by serving to that side in the final game.

“That’s the best thing about Naomi,” Fissette said. “She’s a big server, she’s a big hitter, but she’s a lot more than that. She’s also a great thinker on the court.”

While Osaka began the tournament as one of the favorites, Brady was among 72 players forced to isolate in her hotel room for two weeks before the tournament because of close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Again, a positive attitude helped. Brady’s coach, Michael Geserer, said Brady didn’t complain. Instead, she found a way to practice, hitting balls lobbed by her fitness trainer, Daniel Pohl.

“We approached it the right way,” Geserer said. “We were saying: ‘We can’t change the situation.’ We turned the mattress on the wall, and Daniel threw balls, so she could at least feel the ball on the racket. We tried just to make the best out of the situation.

“So far everything turned out pretty good.”

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