Melbourne: Naomi Osaka insisted Saturday she wasn’t consumed by returning to world number one, revealing her top priority was greater consistency as she eyes a second Australian Open title.
The world number three is widely seen as a frontrunner at Melbourne Park, having gone 14 matches unbeaten — including the US Open final — before withdrawing from her Gippsland Trophy semi-final against Elise Mertens with a shoulder injury.
Three-time Grand Slam winner Osaka reached the rankings summit two years ago when she defeated Petra Kvitova to win the Australian Open and become the first Asian player to take the top spot.
Despite her heady rise, the 23-year-old said becoming world number one felt slightly underwhelming, and brought extra pressure.
“I think nobody really acknowledged me as number one,” said the Japanese star, who was wearing glasses, an orange beanie and Los Angeles Lakers attire in her press conference.
“It just made me think people don’t really see me as number one. I just kept trying to prove myself. I felt like that wasn’t really a good mindset to have.
“If it comes to the point where I’m able to be number one again, I’ll embrace it, but I’m not really chasing it like that anymore.”
Osaka, instead, hoped to be a more consistent performer on the tour and gained inspiration from world number two Simona Halep, who has been ranked in the top 10 for 346 consecutive weeks.
“I think that’s incredible,” she said of Halep’s streak, which is the eighth longest in WTA history. “I feel like I want to have that sort of consistency.
“My career, it’s been kind of up and down a lot, and people don’t really know when I’m going to do well in a tournament or when I’m not.
“I think my ultimate goal is just to at least reach the quarter-finals or better at every tournament I play, and hopefully win most of them.”
Even though she will enter the Australian Open as a favourite, Osaka admitted to nerves ahead of her first round clash against Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
“I’m going to feel very nervous because that’s what’s always going to happen to me,” she said.
“But I think the way that I’m playing now, the way that I was able to play my matches that I had the past couple days, it gives me a lot of confidence.”