Goofball to Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka tipped to rise to the top
Tokyo — After going from goofball to Grand Slam champion, Naomi Osaka can follow her historic US Open triumph by becoming Japan’s first world No1, Japanese tennis great Kimiko Date has predicted.
Though Osaka’s moment of glory was overshadowed by Serena Williams’s meltdown during her stunning 6-2 6-4 upset of her idol at the weekend, the 20-year-old demonstrated she has the game and grit to be a serial winner, Date said.
"To play like that in her first Grand Slam final was just amazing," she said.
"To keep your cool like that, from the moment you step onto court to the last point, isn’t easy," said the former world No4.
"If she continues to develop the way she has over the past two weeks and stays motivated, she can go on to be Japan’s first world No1."
Osaka, a self-confessed Pokemon nerd whose playful nature has made her a favourite on the women’s tour, is expected to climb from 19 to seven in the rankings after becoming an unlikely hero in Japan.
The first Japanese player, man or woman, to capture a Grand Slam singles title, Osaka won her first WTA tournament at Indian Wells in March.
She has put Japanese tennis firmly on the map with her shock victory over Williams, who was chasing a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles crown.
Fighting fire with fire, Osaka’s game mirrors that of the American: big serve, murderous shots off both flanks, particularly the forehand — and a steely determination. Date likened Osaka to China’s Li Na, who retired in 2014 after winning the French and Australian opens and reaching No2 in the world.
"Osaka is taking on the power tennis of the women’s game with power of her own — an Asian player, a Japanese player," said Date.
"Until now only Li Na had the physique to be able to tackle that kind of power. You could tell Serena was wary of Osaka’s power," added Date.
"And she’s still developing. The top players will be studying her now and she will have to go from being the challenger to a position where she has to produce," Date said.
Messages of congratulations flooded in for Osaka, including tweets from Kei Nishikori, who became the first Japanese men’s player to reach a Grand Slam singles final, at the 2014 US Open.
After scooping $3.8m in prize money, Osaka’s off-court earnings are set to increase 10-fold over the next few years from $1.5m to more than $15m, according to Forbes.