Naomi Osaka won the fourth Grand Slam singles title of her career on Saturday by beating Jennifer Brady in the Australian Open final. But her latest triumph will not have come as a surprise to most fans and experts, especially former World No. 2 Tommy Haas.
Haas is a 15-time winner on the ATP tour and a three-time Australian Open semifinalist. Since retiring, the 42-year-old has taken on the role of Tournament Director at the Indian Wells Masters.
In a recent interview with Insider, Tommy Haas recollected his first impression of Naomi Osaka - when was playing five-time Major winner Maria Sharapova at Indian Wells 2018. Haas had not heard much about the Japanese player before that match, but he was left in awe by her ball-striking skills and confidence.
Then ranked No. 44 in the world and aged just 20, Naomi Osaka stunned Sharapova in the first round, and went on to win the whole tournament to claim her first career singles title.
"Maria Sharapova, her first tournament back was in Indian Wells after she had been suspended, and she played this Naomi Osaka, who, I have to admit, I hadn't heard as much about yet that at that time," said Haas. "I remember watching this entire match, and it was a very tight game, I think Maria had some chances, but Naomi won that match 6-4, 6-4."
Tommy Haas, whose single-handed backhand was considered among the best in his era, claimed that he was impressed by all aspects of the youngster's game, especially her serve, groundstrokes and her movement.
"Some of the shots Naomi Osaka was hitting, her flat inside-out forehands and backhands, and her mentality of just being aggressive, and her movement, and especially her serve," Haas went on. "And we were like saying, 'Wow, this girl is really really good, I think she has a chance of getting far here.' Next thing you know, she wins the tournament."
"Almost, a little bit shocking" - Tommy Haas on Naomi Osaka's shy victory speech at Indian Wells
Today, Naomi Osaka is a vocal activist when it comes to racial injustice and other topics close to her heart. But it wasn't too long ago that Osaka was extremely shy and tight-lipped while speaking in public.
Tommy Haas went on to express his surprise at witnessing first-hand just how shy the Japanese player was during her post-match victory speech that year.
"I hadn't even seen one interview because I'm running around, you know, helping with the event," Haas said. "And then the ceremony for her, I remember when she got up to speak and thank everyone, it was almost, a little bit shocking right because I think she was so nervous and it was the first tournament she'd ever won on the tour, and it's such a big one, and she was so shy."
Tommy Haas and Naomi Osaka have established a good equation with each other over the years. The pair were seen practicing together at the Beverly Hills Tennis Center in December 2020.