Two tennis masterminds go head to head in the US Open Finals. Tensions are high on the court and in the stands as Serena Williams, the long-time tennis champion, is challenged by the rising star, Naomi Osaka. Osaka has been dreaming of this moment ever since she was a little girl.
By the time she was three years old, Osaka was already on the courts playing tennis. Now, two decades later, the 23-year-old has won four grand slam titles.
Osaka was born in Japan on October 16, 1997, to her Japanese mother and her Haitian father. Her father wanted her and her sister to follow a similar path as the Williams sisters. Similar to them, Osaka skipped out on the junior tournaments and went directly into professional playing.
Serena Williams was a significant role-model for Osaka when she was growing up, so when the two players faced each other in 2018, it was a very nerve-racking experience for Osaka.
She was able to start off strong in the first set, advancing to 1-4 in her favor. Osaka then gained set point at 5-2 and won it over in the last point. She left little room for error and was always able to match Williams’ energy on the court.
Later in the second set, a coaching violation was called on Williams by the chair umpire, after he claimed to have seen her coach make a gesture from the player’s box. This type of offense was not taken lightly by Williams or the crowd, and it struck up a lot of controversy in the tennis world. Williams was then given another violation, causing her to lose a point in the game. The disbelief of the crowd had them longing for a third set, pushing Williams back into the match.
Even through all the chaos happening, Osaka was able to quickly close the second set with a score of 6-4, bringing to her first-ever grand slam title, and a second victory over her long-time idol.
The outcome opened the doors for Osaka and essentially launched her career, as it led her to become the first Japanese American to win a grand slam title. This victory is what put her on the radar, even if the match itself did not leave Osaka feeling like a winner.
Kamila Wong, a junior at Paly, enjoyed watching the two athletes engage in the match.
“I think that [Osaka] played a really great match, and she never really lost control,” Wong said. “They have similar game styles, with a big serve and big forehand, but Naomi just played better than Serena.”
Noelle Burwell, a senior on the Paly tennis team, believes that every time Osaka beats Williams, it’s a bitter-sweet moment since Williams will always be Burwell’s favorite player.
“I truly want Serena to win another Grand Slam, and I honestly think that Osaka is the only player that may be able to prevent her from getting there,” Burwell said.
Although Burwell favors Williams, she loves watching the two women face one another, even if Williams does not always win.
“It is always amazing to watch them play against each other, and I am glad that Osaka is getting the recognition she deserves,” Burwell said.
Osaka also played Williams this year in the Australian Open, again resulting in victory in 2 sets for Osaka.
She has become so successful that she passed Serena Williams and became the highest-paid female athlete in history.
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“Naomi Osaka is an amazing athlete who is beginning to be recognized for her great tennis game,” Burwell said. “You can tell that every time she plays she puts all of her effort and heart into the game, which makes her a strong competitor and makes her fun to watch.”
Burwell believes that her strategic thinking is what has led her to defeat such strong opponents.
“She is an extremely strategic player, and carefully thinks out each of her shots,” Burwell said. “I think that this was the main skill she needed to utilize in order to attain each of her Grand Slam Championship wins.”
Along with Burwell, Wong also looks up to Osaka.
“My favorite thing about Naomi as a player is her ability to dominate the point and dominate the match,” Wong said. “She has a deadly serve and forehand, and she is a very talented player.”
Anyone who has watched Osaka play has most likely noticed her serenity and fluidity on the court. These factors are often what lead her to success.
“I would say that the biggest thing is that she handles the pressure very well,” Wong said. “At the highest level, it becomes a question of who can best handle the pressure, and Naomi is one of the best at handling that pressure.”
Osaka’s powerful strategy and controlled mindset on the court have allowed her to thrive in her tennis career.
Osaka has been very involved with activism, specifically the Black Lives Matter movement.
During the US Open tournament, Osaka wore a different face mask each day with the names of Black people that were killed due to racism in America. These names were Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile, and Tamir Rice.
“I admire how she stands up for what she believes in,” Wong said. “The world saw she wore 7 different masks with the names of 7 black victims of racial injustice each round of the US Open last year to raise global awareness. As she said, she wanted to ‘make people start talking,’ and I certainly think that more people started talking.”
By using her voice, Osaka has helped raise more awareness and has helped create more conversations about issues regarding social justice around the world.
Throughout her career, Osaka has become a role model to many, specifically young female athletes.
“She is an incredible player and an incredible person,” Wong said. “The way that she conducts herself on and off the court is very admirable.”
Kylie Mies, a senior at Paly, also highly respects Osaka.
“I look up to Naomi as a fellow athlete because of the way she is so humble and is so hardworking,” Mies said. “It is inspiring to see someone so young accomplish so much and still be so respectful.”
Even though she was raised in the States, Osaka and her parents decided that they would represent Japan. Osaka has become a huge role model for her home country and acts as a symbol of hope to all aspiring young athletes.
“As a Japanese woman also, I feel great pride when I see her accomplish so much in global competitions,” Mies said.
Mies believes that Osaka is not only a phenomenal player, but she is an ideal role model for other players.
“She uses her platform to speak about social injustice and topics beyond the world of tennis,” Mies said. “She is a good example of a young person taking action and I think that is very motivating for young athletes like myself.”