Saturday’s headlines belong to Serena Williams and her outburst at the U.S. Open.
History won’t forget Naomi Osaka though. The relatively unknown No. 20 seed became the first Japanese man or woman to win a Grand Slam title after beating Serena, 6-2, 6-4. Here are five things to know about the 20-year-old rising star.
Serena love … just not on the court
Osaka’s admiration of the 23-time Grand Slam champion began long ago. Her father, Leonard, studied what Richard Williams did for Serena and Venus and applied it to Naomi.
Osaka plays like Serena – deep groundstrokes, big serves and an aggressive game plan.
And like Serena, she turned pro as a teenager instead of playing on the junior tour.
Osaka even met Serena at the Bank of the West Classic four years ago and snagged a selfie with her idol.
— Kevin Fischer (@Kfish_WTA) July 30, 2014
As much as she loves Serena, Osaka probably loves beating Serena more. The U.S. Open wasn’t the first time she’s upset one of the greatest tennis players in history.
After beating another Grand Slam champion, Maria Sharapova, at Indian Wells, Osaka said “there are three people I wanted to play, Venus, [Sharapova] and Serena. Now I’m just waiting to play Serena.”
She got her chance weeks later in Miami when she played Serena in just her fourth comeback match following the birth of her daughter, Olympia.
It was a decisive win for Osaka: 6-3, 6-2.
She followed that up in Flushing Meadows to win her first Grand Slam title.
“It was always my dream to play Serena in the U.S. Open finals, so I’m really glad I was able to do that,” Osaka said as she was holding back tears during the trophy presentation.
It was one of the largest age gaps between opponents in Grand Slam final history behind only 17-year-old Monica Seles and 34-year-old Martina Navratilova in 1991.
Osaka has a 2-0 head-to-head record over Serena.
She plays for Japan, but Osaka has Long Island ties as well.
She was born in Osaka, Japan to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father. When she was three, she moved to New York to live with her Haitian grandparents in Long Island. Like Williams, she grew up playing on public courts just a subway ride away from Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Osaka told interviewers how she used to watch Serena playing at the U.S. Open from the upper bleachers.
When she was eight, she would move to Florida to step-up her tennis training, but New York was where her tennis career started.
Dinner on Osaka
Osaka’s U.S. Open win is the biggest title of her career – and also her biggest paycheck.
Osaka earned $3.8 million on Saturday, more than doubling her career earnings. She’s also primed to earn major endorsements in her native Japan.
$3,232,734: Naomi Osaka’s career on-court earnings before the 2018 US Open.
$3,800,000: Check she will receive for winning the 2018 US Open.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 8, 2018
Her countryman Kei Nishikori made $34.6 million in 2017, according to Forbes. $30 million came from endorsements from companies like Jaguar, Japan Airlines, Wowow (a private satellite broadcasting and pay-per-view television station), and Nissin.
— Kei Nishikori (@keinishikori) September 8, 2018
After winning her maiden U.S. Open title, Osaka was, surprisingly, apologetic.
She apologized to the Arthur Ashe crowd, who had booed chair umpire Carlos Ramos and U.S. Open officials, for having beaten the American star.
“I know everyone was cheering for [Serena] and I’m sorry it had to end like this.”
Many other stars took to Twitter to criticize the chair umpire’s penalty which they felt took away from Osaka’s championship win.
Osaka, who turns 21 years old in October, will crack the top-10 on Monday. She’ll be a career-high 7th in the world after her championship win. Saturday’s win also put Osaka in good position to qualify for the end of the year WTA finals in Singapore.
She had never made it past the fourth round of a grand slam until the Australian Open this year. At the U.S. Open, just the 11th major tournament of her career, she went all the way.
She’ll look to back it up at the other majors next season, but everyone will know who she is.
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