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Osaka on Anisimova Rematch: Beat Me, It Motivates Me More

By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, May 19, 2022

Grand Slam tennis is serious business.

Facing the audacious shotmaking of Amanda Anisimova left Naomi Osaka cracking up at the Happy Slam.

More: Roland Garros Women's Draw Preview

Anisimova fought off two match points stunning Osaka in a thrilling 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) triumph at the Australian Open in January.

The Roland Garros draw was conducted in Paris yesterday and the Osaka vs. Anisimova opening-round rematch pops off the page as the must-see first-round blockbuster between one of tennis' fiercest servers and most ferocious returners.

Tennis Express

Reflecting on that electric Melbourne match, Osaka said Anisimova ripped ridiculous returns under pressure that left her laughing out loud.

"When I was playing against Anisimova, it wasn't really like there was a shot she played that I didn't like," Osaka told the media in Paris today. "It was just kind of funny to me, like she would randomly hit a ball so well that I would just start laughing, because it felt like that wasn't supposed to happen.

"So, for example, like her return, her service return is really amazing to me. Like I would hit a really great first serve and she would hit a winner off of it. It would happen multiple times to the point where I know it's not luck, like she's intentionally trying to do that."

After her emotional withdrawal from Roland Garros last year, Osaka described the comic release she felt when coach Wim Fissette informed her she'd drawn Anisimova in her opener. 

"Wim was like, Oh, you know the draw came out. No, I didn't know. Yeah, you play Anisimova. Oh, you're joking, right?" Osaka said.  "So it was that kind of conversation. So I wouldn't say like I don't want to play her, because I feel like for me I'm the type of person that if you beat me, like it motivates me more to win and I also learned a lot from the match. So, yeah, I guess I will see what happens when we play."

Roland Garros will be a proving ground for both power players. Melbourne was a return to major form for Anisimova.

"I just want to soak in this moment," Anisimova said after toppling Osaka in Melbourne. "I'm just extremely happy. It was an amazing match. It was very close.

"You know, there were a bit of nerves, and to play Naomi for the first time, it's unreal, honestly. So I'm just really happy with the win today. Yeah, it sucks we couldn't both win today."

A 17-year-old Anisimova lit up Paris with her 2019 run to the semifinals and seemed to be poised for major achievement before heartbreak hit. Two years removed from the sudden and tragic passing of her father and coach Konstantin, Anisimova says she's in a much better place these days.

The 20-year-old American arrives in Paris in better clay form than Osaka, who was forced to withdraw from Rome with an Achilles issue she suffered in Madrid. In contrast, Anisimova reached the Charleston semifinals and consecutive quarterfinals in Madrid and Rome knocking off five Top 20-ranked opponents on clay along the way. 

Still, Osaka believes the weight of her heavy drives can give her the edge in this Roland Garros rematch.

"I kind of love playing players like [Anisimova], because I think it also improves my game," Osaka said. "I feel like there is a possibility that playing her on clay might be better for me, just because I think I hit a heavier ball, and I don't know why I'm telling you this, because this is also like my strategy."

The 38th-ranked Osaka, who withdrew from Roland Garros last year after sharing she's battled depression and mental health issues, has been seeing a therapist and told the media in Paris she feels "okay."

The former world No. 1 says people have been positive in her Paris return. The reception has Osaka smiling and recent experience has taught her to be ready for anything. 

The four-time Grand Slam champion said she's prepping in the event a heckler screams something like "Naomi, you suck!" as was the case in Indian Wells provoking an emotional response from Osaka.

"Yeah, I'm not gonna lie. Like when I first came here, I was very worried," Osaka said. "I was just kind of worried if there would be people that like -- of course I also didn't like how I handled the situation, but I was worried that there were people that I offended some way and I would just kind of bump into them.

"But I think like everyone has been really positive, for the most part. I'm not really so sure. I was also very worried about this press conference, because I knew I'd get a lot of questions about this.

"But, yeah, I think for me where I am right now, like I have -- I wouldn't want to say it's like it hasn't left my mind. Of course I'm still thinking about it, and I'm like kind of also prepping just in case like I go on the court and a fan says something like in Indian Wells. Yeah, for the most part I think I'm okay."

Photo credit: Getty