MELBOURNE, Australia -- Ever since winning the US Open in September, Naomi Osaka has felt conscious of the way her behavior is perceived on the tennis court, so much so that she has made it a goal not to appear angry.
After defeating Elina Svitolina on Wednesday to advance to the semifinals of the Australian Open, where she will face No. 7 Karolina Pliskova, Osaka told the crowd in her on-court interview that she'd set a goal for herself not to get angry.
"Most people know me for US Open, right? And during US Open, I didn't show any emotions most of the time," Osaka said. "But then after that, I did show -- well, in my opinion, it was a lot of emotions. I got upset, and then I threw my racket or stuff like that. And, for me, I don't really want to do that. I feel like I play better when I'm calm. There is an inner peace I can tap into sometimes during my matches. So that's just something that I'm trying to learn how to do consistently."
Osaka, 21, gets frustrated and sometimes it shows. Before the Australian Open, Osaka apologized for her behavior in a match at the Brisbane International. When she played Hsieh Su-wei of China earlier in the tournament, Osaka had moments when she was visibly irritated and smashed her racket onto the court a couple of times. Not enough to break it, but enough that it was obvious that she was unhappy. But Osaka rallied to orchestrate an impressive come-from-behind win after losing the first set and falling behind 4-2 in the second.
"I just have to tell her the grass is green, water flows and everything is all right sometimes," her coach, Sascha Bajin, said. "Overall, she's very hard on herself. She has very high expectations. She wants to do well. She wants to get better. That's a good thing."
Relatively speaking, Osaka is reserved. Her approach to managing her on-court emotions seems to speak to the reputation she has developed for being harder on herself than anyone else.
Alexander Zverev likely had the most notorious breakdown of the tournament in his fourth-round match against Milos Raonic, which the German lost 6-1, 6-1, 7-6 (5). Zverev demolished his racket, smashing it nine times into the court during a break. Compared to that spectacle, Osaka has the temperament of a Care Bear. But opponents would be well-advised not to mistake Osaka's quiet demeanor for weakness, even as they acknowledge the power in her style that draws so many comparisons to her idol, Serena Williams. Playing style is not the only way they're similar.
After Williams won her quarterfinal match here, her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, marveled at his charge and her ability to move on once she accomplished a goal.
"Roland Garros has always been a difficult tournament for [Williams] in the past, and when we started in 2012, she just lost in the first round," Mouratoglou said. "And after she started to win Grand Slams again, she won Wimbledon, US Open, Olympic gold. She told me she was struggling to win Roland Garros. Last time she won it I think was in 2002, and we were in 2013 when she started to talk to me about that.
"We made a plan, and she worked incredibly hard to win this one, and she won it in 2013. So 11 years after. After the trophy ceremony, she went to stretch, and she told me, 'Come with me. I'm stretching.' After two minutes she turned to me and said, 'Now we have to win Wimbledon.' She already forgot it. Ten minutes later, she was on the next goal. There are guys who win one tournament and they celebrate for 15 years."
Osaka is "different," too. A reporter asked if her mindset changed after winning at Flushing Meadows.
"I know that a few months ago I would have given anything to be in the semifinals of a Slam," Osaka said. "But it's, like, this weird feeling of you want to do the next big thing. And especially now that I won a Grand Slam, and I feel like I want to win another one, and I'm so close and I just want to keep going."