At French Open, Osaka balances tennis and video games
PARIS - Rattling through the first two rounds of the French Open without losing a set leaves more time for PlayStation for Naomi Osaka.
And should the next big thing in Japanese tennis turn up late for her next match, it could well be because she lost track of time plugged into her console. Who needs the sights of Paris when you have “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” to distract you? (“It’s OK you don’t know it,” she kindly told a middle-aged journalist).
“It’s sort of consumed my time a little bit,” the 20-year-old Osaka said Wednesday after reaching the third round at Roland Garros. “Literally, if I have 30 minutes then I’ll just sit there and I might be a little bit late. Like I’ll spend 35 minutes and then I’m like, `Oh my God, it’s 30 minutes past,’ and then I have to rush out the door. So if I’m ever late to anything, you know why.”
The French Open marks the first time Osaka has been seeded at a major (at No. 21). That billing and her debut title on tour earlier this year, when she tore through a high-powered field to win at Indian Wells, mark out Japan’s top-ranked woman as a player to watch in this first week when many struggle to find their feet on the red clay of Paris but others make it their home.
Osaka, who also reached the third round at her first French Open in 2016 only to lose to a qualifier in straight sets in the first round last year, said she is concentrating less on the surface than on trying to win her first Grand Slam.
“In my mind, it’s not really clay,” she said. “I just focus more on the tennis part, rather than making up excuses of what the surface is and how my play style isn’t suited for it.”
Osaka’s third-round opponent is Madison Keys, an American seeded 13th. Keys beat Osaka in both of their previous matches. If Osaka has her way, next time will not only produce a different outcome but be quick, too - because she hopes to spend as little time as possible on the tournament grounds.
“I’m only here if I have to be, to be honest,” she said. “When I was younger I used to love walking around and just experiencing the atmosphere. But now, like, I just sort of think of this as my job. So it’s like clocking in and clocking out.”
Those she beat on her way to the Indian Wells title in March included five-time major winner Maria Sharapova and top-ranked Simona Halep. At her next tournament, in Miami, she then overpowered Serena Williams, her tennis idol in childhood, 6-3, 6-2 in the first round.
She started traveling with her games console from that point on.
“Sometimes I’m really bored in my room and I feel like I really want to play,” she said. “That’s why I started bringing it.”