Naomi Osaka has not always dealt with defeat as well as she did at the US Open on Monday.
Her post-match news conferences following losses at Roland Garros and Wimbledon were much different affairs to the laid back discussion she had with the media after her fourth-round straight-sets loss to Belinda Bencic.
“In Wimbledon I walked out on you guys,” Osaka joked. “In Roland Garros, I came straight from the match, so I was all gross and I just wanted to get out of there.”
The reason for Osaka’s change in reaction to being beaten stems from the events of Saturday in New York, when she won the hearts of sports fans around the world by convincing a tearful Coco Gauff to do a joint on-court interview with her after their third-round clash at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Osaka’s sportsmanship and empathy was widely lauded, and the 21-year-old, who saw her title defence and reign as world number one ended by Bencic, believes the tournament and the experience she shared with Gauff has had a transformative effect on her.
“For me, right now I have this feeling of sadness, but I also feel like I have learned so much during this tournament. Honestly, of course I wanted to defend this tournament,” she said.
“I feel like the steps that I have taken as a person have been much greater than, like, I would imagine at this point. So I hope that I can keep growing. I know that if I keep working hard, then of course I’ll have better results.
“I feel like I’m more chill now. I feel like I grew. I don’t feel like I put so much weight on one single match.”
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 2, 2019
Osaka conceded to being surprised by the level of reaction on social media to her touching moment with Gauff, and by the extra support it earned her in the Bencic match.
However, the added backing could not help her overcome her opponent, with Osaka refusing to blame a knee problem for which she took a painkiller after going down a break in the second set.
“It was kind of weird. Yeah, I definitely felt like people were cheering for me more, which I appreciate. Yeah, it was kind of unexpected,” she added.
“I hurt my knee in Cincinnati, but it’s getting better. I don’t want to say that that’s the reason that I lost, because I obviously had played, like, three matches before this.
“The knee was a little bit annoying in the movement aspect, but I think that that’s something I should have overcome in a way that I either should have started playing more aggressively or just, like, tried to, like, hit at a higher length.
Osaka, who also revealed she has not practiced serving due to being unable to land on her left leg, will have plenty of time to dissect what went wrong against Bencic as she prepares for the Asia swing and the fight for the year-end number one ranking.
However, for now the two-time grand slam champion appears more content to reflect on the many positives from a tournament that has had a greater impact on her personal development than either of those two triumphs.