Naomi Osaka already is a star at age 23. She has the 4 Grand Slam titles, the record-breaking endorsement offers and the willingness to talk her thoughts to show it.
Now the query is: The place does she go from right here?
It was telling that the second query posed to Osaka on the information convention following her 6-4, 6-3 victory over Jennifer Brady in the Australian Open final Saturday — after she took a sip of celebratory bubbly that she mentioned made her “really feel a little bit bit humorous” — was about delivering higher performances at Wimbledon and the French Open.
In any case, every of her main championships thus far got here on exhausting courts at Melbourne Park (2019, 2021) or the U.S. Open (2018, 2020). She by no means has been previous the third spherical on the All England Membership or Roland Garros.
Much more revealing was Osaka’s response.
Requested whether or not her first non-hard-court Slam trophy will come on clay or grass, she mentioned: “Hopefully clay, as a result of it’s the one which’s sooner.”
She just isn’t about biding her time or affected person enchancment.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 20, 2021
And she or he’s been fascinated with the place she wants to enhance.
“It was one in every of her targets this 12 months to play effectively outdoors of the exhausting courts. She’s nonetheless very younger. It’s time to develop on these surfaces. She additionally believes she will be able to do effectively and, I’m certain, with the appropriate preparation, with just a few, possibly, tactical (and) technical changes, we’re going to do effectively,” mentioned her coach, Wim Fissette. “She’s the individual that needs to develop.”
A part of what makes Osaka particular is embracing challenges and realizing what she stands for.
That’s been the case off the court docket and on.
With a racket in her hand, it’s about, as Fissette put it, with the ability to “love huge matches and large moments.”
Osaka needed to face 23-time main champion Serena Williams within the semifinals, for instance.
No concern there.
Naomi Osaka overcame these deficits en path to her 4 Grand Slam titles 🤯 @espnW
— ESPN (@espn) February 20, 2021
“She was like after I deliver my youngsters to the toy retailer: They’re very excited. And Naomi was excited to go on court docket with Serena. It’s simply lovely to see,” Fissette mentioned. “On the finish, that is what you practice for, proper? To be on the largest stage with the perfect participant of all time, Serena.”
Away from the sport, Osaka says, it took time to search out her voice and specific her views.
She was born in Japan to a Japanese mom and Haitian father, and she or he moved to the US when she was 3. Final August, she was the primary tennis professional to hitch athletes from different sports activities in strolling out to protest the police taking pictures of a Black man in Wisconsin.
“Earlier than I’m an athlete,” Osaka tweeted on the time, “I’m a black girl.”
On her strategy to the U.S. Open title in September, Osaka wore masks bearing the names of seven Black victims of violence to attract consideration to racism and police brutality.
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) February 20, 2021
On Saturday, Osaka was requested whether or not there was a message she needed related along with her newest triumph, which made her Four for Four in Slam finals.
“Truthfully, for me, when all the pieces occurred in New York, I received actually scared, as a result of I felt prefer it put me into this gentle that was a non-athletic gentle that I’ve by no means been in earlier than,” she mentioned. “So I really feel like there’s plenty of matters that folks all of the sudden began asking me about that I fully didn’t learn about in any respect. For me, I solely like to speak after I’m educated in regards to the topic or not less than know, like, one tiny grain of what I’m about to begin speaking about. So for me, I simply got here into this match simply pondering purely about tennis.”
And but, within the aftermath of successful the trophy, she was prepared to consider a bigger function, too.
Many checked out her win in opposition to Williams as a passing of the mantle. Osaka additionally received their assembly within the 2018 U.S. Open last — who might neglect that one? — and has eclipsed the 39-year-old American because the highest-earning feminine athlete due to tens of millions in sponsorship offers.
However to Osaka, Williams continues to be, and all the time might be, an idol and an inspiration, a participant whose instance she needed to comply with.
And one of the best ways to repay that, Osaka figures, is to carry that function for others.
“Hopefully I play lengthy sufficient to play a lady that mentioned that I used to be as soon as her favourite participant or one thing,” Osaka mentioned. “For me, I believe that’s the best factor that might ever occur to me. … That’s how the game strikes ahead.”