Naomi Osaka has created many firsts for an Asian player on her journey to rule the sport. It is hard to fathom the idea that Osaka is only 23 years old, considering the achievements she has managed in her short career so far. She is the defending US Open and Australian Open champion and also became the first Asian player to hold the World No.1 ranking. With age on her side, the Japanese player can only get better.
Having turned professional in 2013, Osaka’s first promising moment came when she defeated Samantha Stosur at the 2014 Stanford Classic. However, it was in the 2016 Pan Pacific Open, she caught the public’s eye with an incredible final run before finishing runner-up to Caroline Wozniacki. Naomi failed to take the next step in 2017 and ended the year on a disappointing note.
Osaka’s decision to hire Sascha Bajin as her coach paid dividends instantly. She clinched her maiden professional title, winning the 2018 Indian Wells Open. Having dropped only one set in the tournament, she overcame heavyweight challengers in Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep en route to the final. With a victory against Daria Kasatkina, Osaka bagged her first trophy.
Her major breakthrough came months later at the Flushing Meadows. Osaka was at her ruthless best, beating the top players with relative ease. In the US Open final, she got past Serena Williams’ challenge in straight sets to win her first Grand Slam. In the process, she also became the first Japanese Grand Slam singles champion.
Seeded fourth, Osaka entered the 2019 Australian Open as a favourite and she lived up to the expectations. She had to grind out results against the likes of Hsieh Su-wei, Anastasija Sevastova and Pliskova, before entering the final. Despite her dominant showing, Petra Kvitova saved three championship break points before winning the second set. A refocused Naomi went on to clinch the title in the final set. The last woman to win successive Grand Slam singles titles was Serena Williams in 2015.
What needs to be noted is that Osaka won her first two Grand Slam singles titles in back-to-back tournaments. She is the first player to repeat this feat since Jennifer Capriati managed it in 2001. In the process she became the first Asian player to top the rankings in singles.
Among the many strengths what worked in Osaka’s favour was her powerful serves. She had the ability to produce 200km per hour serves. With excellent forehand, the Japanese star’s aggressive approach denies a breathing space for the opponents. She also has the patience to survive long rallies, making her extremely versatile.
Having won last year’s US Open against Victoria Azarenka and the recently concluded Australian Open over Jennifer Brady, she has the necessary skill set to dominate the game in the coming years. After establishing her superiority in the hard courts, it is time for Osaka to raise her game in the grass and clay courts. If she can stamp her authority in multiple surfaces, there will be no stopping her in the near future.