Already a star, on court and off, Naomi Osaka eyes more

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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: Where 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 within the Australian Open remaining Saturday — after she took a sip of celebratory bubbly that she mentioned made her “feel a little bit funny” — was about handing over higher performances at Wimbledon and the French Open.

After all, every of her main championships up to now got here on onerous 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 Club or Roland Garros.

Even more revealing was Osaka’s response.

Asked whether or not her first non-hard-court Slam trophy will come on clay or grass, she mentioned: “Hopefully clay, because it’s the one that’s sooner.”

She shouldn’t be about biding her time or affected person enchancment.

And she’s been fascinated with the place she wants to enhance.

“It was one of her goals this year to play well outside of the hard courts. She’s still very young. It’s time to grow on those surfaces. She also believes she can do well and, I’m sure, with the right preparation, with a few, maybe, tactical (and) technical adjustments, we’re going to do well,” mentioned her coach, Wim Fissette. “She’s the person that wants to grow.”

Part of what makes Osaka particular is embracing challenges and figuring out what she stands for.

That’s been the case off the court and on.

With a racket in her hand, it’s about, as Fissette put it, with the ability to “love big matches and big moments.”

Osaka needed to face 23-time main champion Serena Williams within the semifinals, for instance.

No concern there.

“She was like when I bring my kids to the toy store: They are very excited. And Naomi was excited to go on court with Serena. It’s just beautiful to see,” Fissette mentioned. “At the end, this is what you train for, right? To be on the biggest stage with the best player of all time, Serena.”

Away from the sport, Osaka says, it took time to seek out her voice and specific her views.

She was born in Japan to a Japanese mom and Haitian father, and she moved to the United States when she was 3. Last August, she was the primary tennis professional to affix athletes from different sports activities in strolling out to protest the police taking pictures of a Black man in Wisconsin.

“Before I am an athlete,” Osaka tweeted on the time, “I am a black woman.”

On her method 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.

On Saturday, Osaka was requested whether or not there was a message she needed related along with her newest triumph, which made her 4 for 4 in Slam finals.

“Honestly, for me, when everything happened in New York, I got really scared, because I felt like it put me into this light that was a non-athletic light that I’ve never been in before,” she mentioned. “So I feel like there is a lot of topics that people suddenly started asking me about that I completely didn’t know about at all. For me, I only like to talk when I’m knowledgeable about the subject or at least know, like, one tiny grain of what I’m about to start talking about. So for me, I just came into this tournament just thinking purely about tennis.”

And but, within the aftermath of successful the trophy, she was prepared to consider a bigger position, too.

Many checked out her win in opposition to Williams as a passing of the mantle. Osaka additionally gained their assembly within the 2018 U.S. Open remaining — who may 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.

But to Osaka, Williams remains to be, and at all times might be, an idol and an inspiration, a participant whose instance she needed to comply with.

And one of the simplest ways to repay that, Osaka figures, is to carry that position for others.

“Hopefully I play long enough to play a girl that said that I was once her favorite player or something,” Osaka mentioned. “For me, I think that’s the coolest thing that could ever happen to me. … That’s how the sport moves forward.”

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