Naomi Osaka has credited Chris Evert for her rapid rise into Grand Slam contention, saying she found it easy to take the American’s advice to heart because of her Hall of Fame career. US Open champion Osaka, who overhauled Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei in three sets at Margaret Court Arena to advance to the fourth round of the Australian Open, even risked the wrath of her coach Sascha Bajin by saying she found Evert a “little bit more believable” than the German.
Bajin, a former hitting partner to Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and Caroline Wozniacki, was awarded WTA Coach of the Year after helping guide Osaka to her maiden Grand Slam triumph at Flushing Meadows.
But it was Evert collecting the plaudits from the Japanese 21-year-old after she set up a last 16 clash with Latvian 13th seed Anastasija Sevastova. “One of the biggest things before I won the US Open or Indian Wells she always told — not told me, but like advised me, to be more consistent,” Osaka told reporters.
“For me it’s a bit more — not that I’m ragging on Sascha, but it’s a bit more — it feels like I should listen to her more, in a way, because — oh, I’m going to get so much hate. You know, because I have seen what she did, and she’s also played. So it’s a little bit more believable.”
Osaka fell at the fourth round at Melbourne Park last year to eventual finalist Simona Halep when still a low-profile, if highly regarded, competitor. Twelve months on, she brings the fourth seeding and massive celebrity as Japan’s first Grand Slam title winner.
“For me, I don’t feel pressure. I feel nerves if that makes sense,” she said. “I felt really nervous in the first round but after that, I felt really good. I have been playing really well, so for me, Grand Slams are more of an exciting time.”
Osaka recently beat her next opponent Sevastova after coming back from a set down at the Brisbane International quarter-finals. “That match was very tough. She’s a really great player,” she said. “So definitely it’s going to be a really big fight for me.”