When I spoke to Naomi Osaka in Dubai three months ago about taking part in Kei Nishikori’s exhibition end of last year in Japan and whether she felt her popularity was rising there, she laughed.
“Well, it’s Kei, everyone is there for Kei. I feel like background character number one,” Osaka said in typical selfdeprecating, sarcastic fashion.
The world No. 21 often describes herself as shy but she’s been slowly coming out of her shell, making friends on tour and interacting with more tennis players.
Recently, she had dinner with Nishikori – who is a superstar back home – and fellow Japanese player Miyu Kato.
Here’s how that dinner went down, according to Osaka.
“I had dinner with Kei and Miyu Kato. And basically, it was them trying to talk to me. And I’m just giving like the one-word replies,” said the 21-year-old Osaka.
“But, to be fair, in Madrid, the dinner starts really late. And I’m an early sleeper, so I was sleepy halfway through the dinner. And so I was like (demonstrating falling asleep), and they were trying to talk.
“I went with my physio, and she h was lik like poking ki me and d was like, ‘ Wake up!’
“I think Kei probably has a weird impression of me.”
Does she feel she is friends with Nishikori now?
“I want to feel like I’m friends with Kei. I’m not really sure if he thinks I’m his friend,” she responded. “He’s a really, really nice guy.”
The physios of Osaka and Nishikori set up the dinner but sadly she doesn’t think there’s be a repeat hang-out.
“It’s probably never going to happen again. Because that was just so embarrassing,” she concluded.
Things continued to get hilarious in the press conference room when Dominic Thiem walked in yesterday.
The No. 6 seed, who is dating French WTA player Kristina Mladenovic (nicknamed Kiki), has been friends with Latvian Ernests Gulbis for years, as they both spend a significant time training at the same place in Austria.
The following conversation took place in Thiem’s pretournament press conference:
Question: Your relationship with Gulbis, is it still open? You still have a connection?
Thiem: I’m in relationship now with Kiki. I finished with Gulbis and signed with Kiki.