There must be something about the U.S. Open that gives Naomi Osaka something a little extra. After a less than stellar season, the 19-year-old from Boca Raton defeated defending champion Angelique Kerber in the first round, then on Thursday got past Denisa Allertova.
It was a rugged three-setter, with Osaka ultimately prevailing, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, in the intimate setting of Court 13. The expectations in the wake of beating Kerber started to pile up on Osaka Thursday during the long walk from the locker room through the industrial corridors of Ashe Stadium.
“When I was walking down the hall to go to the court for the match, then I was, like, ‘Oh, my God,’ ” Osaka said. “The hallway is super long, so I started thinking way too much.”
There are many good thoughts at the Open for this talented player, who holds Japanese and American passports. The daughter of a Japanese mother and Haitian father born in Osaka, Japan, she said the family moved to Elmont on Long Island when she was 3 because her father wanted to be closer to his relatives. They lived on Long Island about six years, she said, but she wasn’t sure she started to play tennis here. It was a family decision to move to Florida and eventually to play the game under the auspices of the Japanese federation.
She popped up at the Open for the first time in 2016, taking out American CoCo Vandeweghe in the first round and reaching the third round, where she gave American Madison Keys a real tussle on Ashe. She was up 5-1 in the third set in that match before Keys rallied for the win.
After beating Kerber on massive Ashe Stadium, the coziness of Court 13 seemed abiding.
“I felt like Court 13 was more personal,” she said. “Last year I played on Court 13 against CoCo, and everyone literally, I felt everyone was against me. So just to have them cheer for me this time around, I felt really happy.”
Her demeanor is quiet and reserved, but her character seems a bit playfully eccentric.
“I don’t really talk a lot,” she said, addressing a small group of journalists during her mandatory news conference. “I know I’m talking a lot now, but normally I don’t talk that much. It’s just, like, a few things.”
A few things about winning, which is a good thing.