Osaka strives for consistency, not No. 1 ranking

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Yarra Valley Classic

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Naomi Osaka is no longer focused on reclaiming the world No. 1 ranking and says she just wants to become more consistent and play every match as hard as she can.

Three-times Grand Slam champion Osaka rose to the top of the rankings following her 2019 Australian Open triumph but is currently third behind Ash Barty and Simona Halep.

The 23-year-old, who plays former quarter-finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the first round at Melbourne Park, won her second U.S. Open title last year and is widely seen as having the potential to dominate the women's circuit for years to come.

"It doesn't bother me as much as it used to because I remember when I first got to No. 1, I think nobody really acknowledged me as No. 1," she told reporters on Saturday.

"I remember I was in Indian Wells and I was talking to someone, they were like, 'what side of the draw are you on?' And the No. 1 is always on the top side.

"It just made me think, wow, people don't really see me as No. 1. ... since that point I just kept trying to prove myself.

"That wasn't really a good mindset to have.

"Right now I'm at a really good place, I just want to play every match as hard as I can. If it comes to the point where I'm able to be No. 1 again, I'll embrace it, but I'm not really chasing it any more."

Players did not have the ideal preparation for the year's first Grand Slam due to Australia's strict 14-day isolation requirement. Osaka pulled out of her Gippsland Trophy semi-final on Saturday with a shoulder "niggle" as she did not want to risk it before the major.

"Anyone that's kind of followed me for a bit knows that I've kind of had a slight shoulder thing since like 2018 in Beijing," she said.

"It kind of flared up again because I played a lot of matches back-to-back. My main focus is hoping I can rest enough before the Open."

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Peter Rutherford)