NEW YORK, NY, USA - Naomi Osaka quipped that she "didn't dream to lose" when she grew up envisioning a Grand Slam final with Serena Williams, but the 20-year-old Japanese star was understandably overcome with emotion after making that dream come true on Saturday night.
"I know that she really wanted to have the 24th Grand Slam, right?" Osaka said after overcoming Williams, 6-2, 6-4 in a dramatic final to become Japan's first Grand Slam singles champion. "Everyone knows this. It's on the commercials, it's everywhere. When I step onto the court, I feel like a different person, right? I'm not a Serena fan. I'm just a tennis player playing another tennis player.
"But then when I hugged her at the net," she trailed off, fighting back tears. "When I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again."
It was an emotional day for Osaka, who earned a second win of the season over her idol, having first beat her at the Miami Open after capturing her first WTA title at the BNP Paribas Open. Williams was trying to become the first mom to win a Grand Slam title since Kim Clijsters in 2011, and tie Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 major titles.
"When I was growing up, I did a whole report on her in third grade. I colored it and everything. I said, 'I want to be like her.'
"For me, I'm always going to remember the Serena that I love. It doesn't change anything for me. She was really nice to me at the net and on the podium. I don't really see what would change."
What will change is Osaka's ever-growing public profile, particularly at home, where she'll head soon to play the Toray Pan Pacific Open. Osaka made her tour-level breakthrough at that event in 2016, reaching the final and finishing runner-up to former World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki.
"Apparently not," she joked when asked whether she felt ready for the home crowd reactions, "because people keep asking me that."
She was also asked about coach Sascha Bajin, who began working with the youngster at the start of this season, and became his first charge to win a major title after years of being Williams' hitting partner.
"I chose him to work with because he twisted his ankle within the first five minutes of practice. I was like, 'Yup, this guy right here, he's going to be great!' she laughed.
"If you meet him, then you know that he's a really nice person, and he's really positive and upbeat. I think for me that's really important because I tend to be down on myself a lot. That's one of the main reasons why I chose him."
Some of that negativity permeated Osaka's aura over the summer as she felt pressure to replicate her Indian Wells form during the US Open summer hardcourt swing. Losing three straight matches before flying to Flushing Meadows, the new World No.7 even tweeted an apology to fans.
"I guess it's been different mindset. I feel like coming into this tournament I had a lot of things happen to me, and then now I'm just having fun while I play, so I think that's always something that I can keep trying to do."
It looked like Osaka was having plenty of fun this fortnight, dropping just one set and 32 total games in seven matches to earn a $3.8 million check, a sum as surreal as the victory itself.
"I'm not really the type that spends money on myself. For me, as long as my family's happy, I'm happy. When I see my sister, because she's going to Tokyo, too, I think for me that's the biggest gift."
In the immediate aftermath of this full circle moment for Osaka, it doesn't seem like much has changed - the experience of Indian Wells having perhaps prepared her for this next phase of her career.
Asked how she'll celebrate, she noted she was still too young to drink, and shrugged off the idea of a lavish post-win party:
"I'm not really a social person like that. Maybe I'll play video games. I don't know."
This article was first seen on www.wtatennis.com.