Dubai: The rise of Naomi Osaka to the topmost rung of women’s tennis — as they say — is more like a fairytale.
Last September, as Serena Williams spewed venom at the Louis Armstrong Stadium Court in New York, Osaka shut out the enveloping acrimony and helped herself to her maiden Grand Slam with the US Open. Four months later and on the other side of her 21st birthday, Osaka once again showed the stuff she’s made of as she took her second Major with the Australian Open.
This time, there was no Serena, and not the same umpire but none of the trademark resilience and guts were missing. Her opponent Petra Kvitova saved three championship points and the final spilled into a deciding third set. And Osaka once again came out smiling.
“This feels so much like a dream. When I look back now I think these titles have only made me want to practice more,” Osaka told media on Sunday.
“And also I think for me one of the biggest things is I have more confidence in myself. I think last year, honestly all I wanted was just to get to the quarters of a slam. Now I’ve won two, and I know that I can do it. It’s like a different mentality,” she added.
Around this time last year, Osaka sat at number 72 in the world, there was no mistaking her potential. In 60 matches, dating back to 2016, she has been victorious every time she has won the first set. And with the help of proper guidance, she has been able to add nuances to her explosive power — that has seen her become the youngest world number one since Caroline Wozniacki reached the top in 2010.
To her credit, Osaka is happy to outline ambitious plans for the future — although in her typically understated manner. “For me, I don’t want to say I don’t care about being No. 1. Like winning tournaments is always the number one priority. I feel like if you can do that consistently, you’re going to be No. 1 no matter what,” she confessed.
“Of course this tournament, the next few tournaments are going to be very important to me. Indian Wells is coming up. I know that I have to defend that. But of course, one of my biggest goals is just to have fun. I think I’m in a really good position right now. Rankings isn’t really my goal. Last year I wasn’t even in the top-50, and now I’m No. 1. One of the biggest things is to just have fun with everything you’re doing, and I’m really happy to be here now,” she added.
As the new world number one, Osaka may have just about given herself a new perspective on living life to the fullest.