AAP Tennis

Champ Osaka plays down rivalry with Barty

By AAP Newswire

Focused solely on herself, reigning champion Naomi Osaka has laughed off suggestions she's been "monitoring" Ashleigh Barty's pre-Australian Open form.

Very much her own person, Osaka also played down talk of fierce rivalries as she sets about adding a third grand slam crown to her collection.

"It's super weird. People keep asking me questions like we're rivals or something," the Japanese superstar said when asked if she'd been keeping close tabs on Barty's progress.

"She's in the finals of Adelaide right now, right? Yeah, I think obviously she's a great player. She's the No.1 ranked player in the world.

"We've played really close matches. What was the question? Sorry. I've been just stuck on this 'monitoring' thing, like do I have screens of her matches or something."

Seeded third in the loaded top half of the draw, Osaka could face seven-times champion Serena Williams in the quarter-finals and Barty in the semis.

The 22-year-old said she was feeling just as confident heading into the Open as she did 12 months ago, but also much more aware of the dangers ahead.

"Last year I feel like I was young. I was just this young kid that was going out like my goal was to win, and I wasn't going to let anything stop me," Osaka said.

"I feel like now I appreciate more every single win because I know what it took to get it.

"Of course I want to win every match and I want to go out there and do that. That's what I'm here for.

"I think maybe last year I was a little bit more fearless."

After spending her career hiring and firing like few others, Osaka has linked with the highly respected Wim Fissette, the former coach of multiple grand slam champions Kim Clijsters, Victoria Azarenka, Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber.

"Just knowledge," the 22-year-old said when asked what she was looking for in the Belgian mentor.

"He's had a lot of experience with previous players. I expected a lot of information for him to know, like what he was talking about.

"Just like being able to respect ... I can trust him. I feel like it's been working out well, even though we've played one tournament together."

Osaka will open her title defence on Monday against Czech world No.57 Maria Bouzkova.