Rome Diary

Sport360 - - Italian Open - Reem Abulleil @ReemAbulleil

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.

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