May 20, 2019

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A Wiser Naomi Osaka Adjusts to Stardom, Even as She Briefly Stumbles

A Wiser Naomi Osaka Adjusts to Stardom, Even as She Briefly Stumbles
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“I guess one of the biggest things is I wanted to be more mature,” she said. “I feel like this is something I’m still working on — on and off the court. It’s one of the biggest goals that I have had in my entire life.”

“I might have thrown a few tantrums last year,” she added. “And this year it’s something that I’m working on improving, and I feel like it’s going well. I think I’m just more confident in myself.”

Dismissing Sascha Bajin, her silken-voiced German coach, was certainly a bold move. Under his guidance, she defeated Serena Williams, Bajin’s former employer, twice in 2018: once in the first round in Miami and once under much more duress in the United States Open final. With Bajin still by her side, but apparently no longer in her confidence, Osaka fought through another rough-and-tumble draw to win the Australian Open in January.

Neither has explained their split in detail, although Osaka has said it was not a matter of money. She or some members of her team were looking for a lower-profile coach, but there were clearly personal issues at work, too.

“Something happened that must not have been good, although that’s just speculation,” said Evert, who often watched Osaka and Bajin train in Boca Raton, Fla. “They were laughing and having fun practices and teasing each other, and it was great, and then just before the Australian and after the Australian, it was tense.”

Bajin is gone now, replaced by Jermaine Jenkins, a former standout at Clemson University who spent several years as the main hitting partner for Venus Williams, who dismissed her coach, David Witt, and Jenkins in the off-season.

Jenkins was quickly hired as a national coach by the United States Tennis Association to work out of its national campus in Orlando. He was just settling in when he got a text message from Osaka’s agent, Stuart Duguid, inquiring about his availability.

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