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Osaka's development as a player through tough challenges brings success

Japan's Naomi Osaka makes a forehand return to Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic during the women's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

MELBOURNE -- Naomi Osaka, who won the Australian Open tennis tournament on Jan. 27 for her second grand slam title in a row, showed through her victory the development of her ability to withstand tough competition.

The win followed Osaka's grand slam triumph last year in the U.S. Open, which is also played on a hard court. Looking at the data from both tournaments, the Australian Open could be described as a competition in which Osaka struggled, but still managed to exhibit her own flair.

In the U.S. Open, Osaka played a full three sets in just one of her matches, but in the Australian Open, she had four such matches. In both the third and fourth rounds of the latest tournament, in particular, she made comebacks after losing the first set.

In the Australian Open, Osaka scored a lower percentage of breaks, dropping from 61 percent in the U.S. Open to 42 percent this time. She also saw a higher number of unforced errors, at 212 -- 1.7 times more than in the U.S. Open. She apparently had a harder time as a result of opponents studying her playing style following her U.S. Open victory.

Lifting her in the Australian Open, however, were her 59 aces -- nearly twice as many as in the U.S. Open. Her serves, which are fast even by men's standards, constitute a strong part of her game. She also hit nearly twice the number of clean winners, or point-winning shots not reached by the opponent, at 259.

Receiving instruction from her fitness trainer, Abdul Sillah, Osaka worked to build up her physique in the off-season, giving herself more agility when moving left and right, which in turn enabled her to take control of the rallies against her opponents.

Osaka described Sillah's training as really tough, but says she kept telling herself that if she tried hard she would get the trophy. Having "evolved" past the tough mark set by her opponents, she secured her position as the first athlete from an Asian country to claim a world No. 1 singles ranking in tennis.

(Japanese original by Ryuichi Arai, Osaka Sports News Department)

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