World No. 1 Naomi Osaka revealed on Sunday at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships that her surprise split with her coach Sascha Bajin was not for financial reasons, adding that it was “hurtful” to hear such rumours circulating.
Osaka’s successful 13-month partnership with Bajin, that saw her win two Grand Slams and rise to the top of the world rankings, came to an end earlier this month when the Japanese star announced via social media that they would no longer be working together.
The 21-year-old did not elaborate on the reasons behind her decision but assured it was not financially-driven.
“Everyone thinks it was a money-related issue, but it wasn’t. For me, that’s one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever heard. I travel with everyone on my team, I see them more than my family. I would never do that to them,” Osaka told reporters on Sunday at the Jumeirah Creekside hotel in Dubai.
“I think my reason is I wouldn’t put success over my happiness. I think everyone knows, in Charleston and stuff, I’ve had moments. I don’t know, that’s my main thing.”
Osaka was referring to the tournament in Charleston last year that came on the heels of her first career title at Indian Wells. Following her loss to Julia Goerges in Charleston, she had said that she woke up the previous day feeling “depressed” and she wasn’t sure why.
The freshly-crowned Australian Open champion did not say much more on the matter but made sure to pay tribute to Bajin and the work he put in during their partnership.
“I’m not going to say anything bad about him because, of course, I’m really grateful for all the things that he’s done. Yeah, I wouldn’t just come here and say anything bad,” she added.
“I feel like, if anything, you would have to be around him to see or ask him.”
The three reigning Grand Slam champions – Osaka, Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber, have all parted ways with their coaches, for different reasons, since they’ve won their respective majors. For Osaka, she says her decision was not as sudden as it may seem.
“It was kind of brewing in Australia. I think some people could see that if they saw how we interacted,” she explained. “I would not want to split on really bad terms, I think, because of course he was sort of the one that, like, made me open up more to people. I didn’t want it to be really, like, a hostile thing.”
Making her first appearance as world No.1 in Dubai, Osaka is joined by her father, her fitness trainer Abdul Sillah, her trainer Kristy Stahr – whom she refers to as “Miss Super Star” – and Japanese coach Masashi Yoshikawa.
She says she will start her search for a new coach after Dubai, noting that arriving to Indian Wells, where she is the defending champion, without a coach is “not ideal”.
Asked what she’ll be looking for in a coach moving forward, Osaka responded: “For me, just to have a positive mindset. I don’t want someone that’s in the box saying negative stuff. That would be the worst.
“Yeah, someone that’s kind of direct, not afraid to say things to my face. I’d rather someone say it directly to me than go around my back. That’s one of the biggest things.”
Osaka seemed in a cheerful mood and looked comfortable discussing the topic. She will face Kristina Mladenovic in her opening match in Dubai. She has been spotted hitting with Yoshikawa on centre court and says the back injury that forced her out of Doha has subsided.
“Yoshikawa-san is not really my coach-coach. He’s just been helping me since I was 16. He’s one of the people that knows my game the most. He’s always around at certain tournaments, he’s always helping. I thought it would be a good idea for him to come here since I’m sort of stuck right now. This is the one tournament that I think I need someone around that’s very helpful,” said Osaka, who made the quarter-finals in Dubai last year.