Two years ago, Naomi Osaka took her first tentative steps onto the world tennis stage when she cracked the Top-50 rankings on the WTA circuit and was named Newcomer of the Year.
But the 20-year-old has taken her fame to another level since capturing the her first WTA title at Indian Wells two weeks ago.
Osaka, who was born in Japan, but lives in Florida, followed that up by ousting Serena Williams last week in the opening round of the Miami Open.
Since her victory at Indian Wells, Osaka, who defeated Germany’s Laura Siegemund, 6-3, 7-6 Wednesday morning at the Volvo Car Open, said her life has been a blur.
“I feel like these past few weeks have flown by since Indian Wells,” Osaka said. “Everything has gone by so fast, and I feel like I’m just mentally a little bit tired. I think that’s something I need to learn how to fix.”
Osaka, the tournament’s 10th-seed this week, said she’s hoping to take a break from the circuit in the near future, but doesn’t want to halt the momentum she has generated over the past few weeks.
“I’ve been playing these tournaments back-to-back, and for sure I’ve played more matches this year than last year at this point,” Osaka said. “I want to take a break, but I also want to keep playing these tournaments and doing well. So, just balancing that has been the hardest for me.”
With winning comes expectations and pressure, but that’s OK with Osaka.
“I’m a person that always puts pressure on myself,” Osaka said. “I feel like that run at Indian Wells I was just focused more on match-by-match and point-by-point. So I try not to think too much about what’s going on the outside and just like to try and internalize and think what I can do better.”
As good as Osaka played at Indian Wells, she feels that her best tennis is still ahead of her this season.
“I don’t think that was the best I can play,” Osaka said. “I feel there’s a lot of things that I can improve on and every day I’m trying to get better at something.”
Wheelchair tennis gets visit from pro
Taylor Wingate and Nick Burham thought it was going to be another routine exhibition for wheelchair tennis.
Wingate and Burham, who are both members of the Carolina Rolling Rackets wheelchair tennis team based out of Rock Hill, got a surprised celebrity player on the court Wednesday afternoon.
Netherlands native Kiki Bertens, who dispatched Aleksandra Krunic, 6-4, 6-2, decided to join Wingate and Burham for a quick game. The Netherlands is one of the leading countries for wheelchair tennis. Esther Mary Vergeer, a native of Woerden, Netherlands, was the world’s No. 1 player for nearly 14 years, winning 48 Grand Slam titles and seven Paralympic championships over a two-decade career. Dutch wheelchair tennis player Diede De Groot recently captured the world’s No. 1 spot.
“In the Netherlands, it’s a really big sport,” said Bertens, the 12th-seed at this weeks’ tournament. “Esther is a legend of the sport and Diede has taken over as the No. 1 player in the world, so it’s a big deal in the Netherlands. I think this a great for tennis because there was so many wheelchair tournaments now around the world. The more people that are involved in the sport, the better. It shows you that there are no limitations if you want to play tennis.”
Wingate, who is from Rock Hill, said having Bertens take time from the tournament to take part in the exhibition was a surprise.
“I don’t think either one of us was expecting one of the players to come out here and hit with us,” said Wingate, who started playing wheelchair tennis about four years ago. “It was a lot of fun and I’m glad I was able to give her some of my best shots.”
Burham, who is from Monroe, N.C., picked up the sport about seven years ago and was Bertens’ doubles partner during the exhibition.
“It was a thrill to hit with Kiki,” Burham said. “I love the individual aspect of the sport. I tried wheelchair basketball and it was great, but I love the individual challenge of tennis and that one-on-one match-up with the person across the net from you.”
Actor Omar Benson Miller hasn’t been in the Lowcountry long, but it already feels like home.
Miller, who is best known for his role on HBO’s Ballers, also has a show on the Tennis Channel called Advantage Omar. Miller’s show explores the wide range of cultural experiences unique to major Grand Slam cities around the world.
Miller rode his bike downtown on The Battery, but the 6-6 Los Angeles native has spent most of his time exploring all the various eating options that has made Charleston famous. Miller has stopped by Little Jack’s Tavern and Saltwater Cowboys on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant.
“There are a lot of great places to eat here,” Miller said. “I’m glad Charleston is flat because I’ve been walking around downtown just to burn off all the calories from the past couple of days.”
Barbecue is on the menu for Thursday.
The nice weather this week and the upsets on Tuesday has helped attendance at this year’s Volvo Car Open.
Attendance was up from a year ago at this point. The Volvo Car Open reported attendance of 6,605 for Wednesday’s day session.
Overall, 39,704 have been on hand through the first five days. That’s up from last year’s total of 38,699 at the same point in 2017.