Naomi Osaka burst onto the global tennis scene when she parlayed two weeks of wonderful tennis in The Big Apple in 2018 – and outlasted the biggest presence of the women’s Tour, Serena Williams – to take home the U.S. Open title. Serena watched her own game slowly unwind, she threw in a giant temper tantrum, and tried to hold on through allegations of on-court coaching, all to no avail, as Osaka simply beat the snot out of the American all-time great.
But this was not Osaka’s first act on the tennis court that would bring her to prominence. In 2014, at age 16, she beat former U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur. But her real breakthrough came with her 2018 title at Indian Wells. Her U.S. Open win came six months later, and she followed that monumental triumph by winning the very next Grand Slam event, the 2019 Australian Open, which solidified her standing as an elite women’s player.
No one wins two consecutive Grand Slam events without being a terrific tennis player, but Osaka is not a finished product. She’s only 22, and because her game is predicated on hitting BIG, it is taking her a bit longer than most female champions-to-be to mature into the player that she will become. And because Osaka is still learning both on and off the court, I’d expect her to remain somewhat inconsistent and present results that confirm this inconsistency. However, she’s got the game and everything that is required to be a champion, so I’d expect her to win and gradually rise to become an icon in the Women’s game.
As the women’s game evolves into the post-Serena, post-Maria sport that it will be shortly, Osaka is poised to become one of those big names tournament directors publicize. In Osaka’s defense, she may not quite be ready for the role as media darling that she seems to have inherited, but that’s what she will have to learn how to deal with, because she is one, and she will be for a very long time.