'It's weird': Japan's Osaka enjoying being woman to fear

Paris (AFP) –


Japan's Naomi Osaka admitted Friday it felt "weird" to be seeded at a Grand Slam for the first time and seeing her transformation from razor-sharp social media star to a player suddenly feared when she walks onto a tennis court.

The bubbly 20-year-old, seeded 21 for the French Open which starts on Sunday, has enjoyed a breakthrough season.

She became the first unseeded player since 2005 to win the prestigious Indian Wells tournament, beating Maria Sharapova, current world number one Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova on her way to the title.

Then just days later, she defeated her childhood hero Serena Williams in Miami.

"I used to feel a little bit stressed if I was to play a super great player in the first round," said Osaka at Roland Garros on Friday.

"Now I'm the woman that many players probably don't want to play against."

"So it feels weird being seeded as I can feel the expectations."

Osaka, the daughter of a Haitian father and Japanese mother, stands at 1.80m (5ft 11in) and boasts an equally impressive set of figures at the Slams.

She made the Australian Open fourth round this year and has reached the third round of Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open.

In New York last year, her former home city before decamping to Florida, she defeated former champion Angelique Kerber in the first round.

But it's clay courts which have provided her with her greatest challenge -- 12 months ago, she made a disappointing first-round exit in Paris.

This season on European clay, she fell in the first round in Madrid and at the second hurdle in Rome, beating Victoria Azarenka before losing to Halep.

"In Madrid, I played the match like a hard court. In Rome, I played too many cross-court shots and playing with patience against Halep is not ideal.

"At the end I just got frustrated."

Osaka says she enjoys trying to bamboozle players who never know what to expect from her hard-hitting style.

"I like to rally and see how frustrated opponents become when I don't make a mistake. Their coaches tell them I will make mistakes at some stage."

Since the end of December, Osaka has been coached by Sascha Bajin, the former hitting partner of Williams, Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki.

His influence was certainly there when she defeated Williams in Miami, such a seismic win that the great American hasn't played since.

"It's strange but beating Serena gave me more confidence than winning Indian Wells. I had wanted to play her for such a long time.

"It was a very special match. Now I feel I am getting better every day."

Osaka will start her French Open campaign against Sofia Kenin of the United States.