How did Naomi Osaka grow to become such a presence in women’s tennis? Her pathway to being a professional player began early in her life.
At sixteen years old, most people are in the middle of their high school careers, dreaming about their futures, and getting their driver’s licenses, But for tennis athlete Naomi Osaka, sixteen was the age she turned professional and began to compete against legends like Dominika Cibulková, Angelique Kerber, and even Serena Williams.
Training and Turning Professional
Although Osaka was born in Japan and represents Japan when she plays tennis, she moved to the United States at the age of three and started training shortly after, inspired by the Williams sisters and encouraged by her father. Osaka played her first professional match on her fourteenth birthday, in 2011, and continued to play games and tournaments, some against her sister, whom she had been training with for years. And at the age of sixteen, Naomi Osaka turned professional.
After she turned pro, Osaka shot up the rankings. She enrolled and participated in more international Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments, reaching several finals and semifinals that pushed her into the top one hundred and fifty women’s tennis players in the world. Over the next few years, Osaka made her way into the top fifty women’s players, and gained even more recognition for her talent and skills, all culminating in the 2018 US Open final against one of the biggest names in women’s history, and Osaka’s personal childhood idol: Serena Williams.
ThatGame Against Serena Williams
Perhaps the game that gave Naomi Osaka the most recognition and fame in her career, up until that point, was the 2018 US Open Final, but unfortunately, not all the attention was positive. Osaka defeated Serena Williams, 6-2 and 6-4, to gain her first Grand Slam title, to become the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam title, and to become one of the youngest US Open champions.
However, her victory was somewhat overshadowed by Williams’ furious exchanges with the umpire over potential coaching violations and poor sportsmanship penalties. Osaka also had to deal with the hostility of Williams’ fans, who very much wanted her to win. However, even in the heat of the moment, and in the aftermath of the game, dealing with a wide range of emotions, Osaka is remembered for handling the situation calmly and politely.
At just twenty years old, she demonstrated a wonderful maturity, paying tribute to Serena’s talent and the inspiration the athlete had provided to her. Despite the negative associations with the game, the 2018 US Open Final is considered a big breakout for Osaka, and potentially the one that put her on the radar of most tennis fans.
Continuing to Rise
In 2019, right after she won the US Open, Naomi Osaka was the champion of the Australian Open, which made it her second Grand Slam title in a row. After this victory, her rank in women’s singles rose to number one, and her rank today is just one lower than that.
Even in the time of COVID-19, which has made it hard for many athletes to have a normal season, Osaka is shining, picking up another first-place championship at the 2021 Australian Open just this week, defeating Serena Williams again. Since rising to the top of the tennis world, Osaka has been featured in TIME and Sports Illustrated and has even crossed into other sports worlds, becoming a partial owner of the North Carolina Courage, a professional women’s soccer team in the NWSL.
She is a force to be reckoned with, and at just twenty-three years old, the opportunities for her to continue to grow and rise in tennis are excitingly endless.