Naomi Osaka tuning out 'outside noise' after difficult year

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka said she has learned to ignore her critics after coming through what she called "the toughest year of my life."

Osaka, the No. 3 seed at this year's tournament, won her second Grand Slam title at the Australian Open 12 months ago, a victory that gave her the world No. 1 ranking for the first time.

But Osaka struggled with the attention and lost her way, leading her to make a conscious decision not to worry about what people said about her.

"Until Wimbledon I did," she said Saturday, referring to her first-round exit at the All England Club in July. "Then I just decided that this is what I've chosen to do, for the majority of my life. I've been training my whole life for this. I shouldn't let ... outside noise -- no offense to you guys, love you guys -- but outside noise dictate how I'm feeling."

Osaka, 22, admitted it was hard to ignore everything but said her life had been much simpler before she won her first title at Indian Wells in 2018, a victory that catapulted her to the world's attention.

"I guess just before [winning Indian Wells], everything, if I lost, it wouldn't be an article," she said. "Now if I lose, like, there's news. It was tough adjusting to that.

"Honestly, last year was the toughest year of my life, so I would hope it gets better. I think I [have] just got to keep fighting for every match, see [where] it takes me."

A year after her triumph in Melbourne, Osaka said her life has changed.

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

"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."

Returning to Melbourne, though, has brought positive thoughts flooding back.

"It was really cool, I just immediately had flashbacks of I guess last year," she said. "I'm just super happy to be back here. Hopefully I can play well."

Osaka opens her title defense against Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic on Monday.