September 5, 2018 / 9:11 PM / 3 months ago

Pressure-free Osaka gets back to business

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Naomi Osaka seemed to shrug off the weight of history on Wednesday, when she beat Lesia Tsurenko at the U.S. Open to become the first Japanese woman since 1996 to advance to the semi-finals of a Grand Slam.

FILE PHOTO:Sep 5, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Naomi Osaka of Japan celebrates her win over Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine in a quarter-final match on day ten of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY SPORTS

After forcing her opponent into a backhand error to clinch the match 6-1 6-1, Osaka neither cried nor cheered — the 20-year-old simply pumped her fist, smiled and shook hands with her beaten competitor.

It was a departure from her tearful fourth-round victory over Aryna Sabalenka and a reflection of the new mentality Osaka is embracing as she advances in the tournament.

“For me I feel like I was much more emotional for the quarters. And then now I feel like it’s sort of like business again,” Osaka told reporters.

“Quarters was sort of my mental goal, like every time I played a Grand Slam. And then after I went into the quarters, I kind of want to keep going, so I feel like I have to be focused again.”

A stellar performance in March’s Indian Wells tournament, where she clinched her first career title, has helped ease the tension, Osaka said, letting her focus on her ferocious serve and aggressive forehand.

“I think winning in Indian Wells helped me a lot, because now I feel like the state of mind that I have here is ... I don’t feel pressure, so I feel a little bit like I’m used to it,” Osaka said.

Coach Sascha Bajin, the former hitting partner of Serena Williams, said Osaka has “matured a lot on court.”

“I think there were a couple of matches in the past, it’s not a secret, she would get a little bit negative and down on herself just because things aren’t going her way,” Bajin told reporters.

“But I think slowly she’s finding a way to get herself out of it and not allowing so many negative emotions in her life.”

For Osaka, who next faces either Carla Suarez Navarro or 2017 finalist Madison Keys, it’s the “little things” she has improved that are making the difference, Bajin said.

“I think she’s playing smarter now. She’s more open-minded on the court about other things than just, yeah, trying to crush the opponent.”

Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Toby Davis

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