Formidable Osaka strikes four, targets clay success

The Japanese star remains undefeated in Grand Slam finals after a commanding fortnight was capped in style in the Australian Open women’s final.

Naomi Osaka Australian Open 2021 championne©Tennis Australia / Fiona Hamilton
 - Alex Sharp

“I still feel really new… I still feel like I’m just starting.”

The “new” Naomi Osaka is already a four-time Grand Slam champion, what the “old” Osaka will achieve in the future is an intriguing prospect.

The 23-year-old put in a dazzling display to defeat world No.24 Jennifer Brady in the Australian Open final 6-4, 6-3 on Saturday.

In doing so, Osaka remain undefeated in her four major finals, has maintained a 21-match winning streak in an unbeaten 12 months.

Enhancing her burgeoning reputation as a ‘big-time’ player, the Japanese superstar is 12-0 in Grand Slam action from the quarter-finals onwards. In deep, Osaka takes the title.

Giving some context to Osaka’s triumph, only Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters are active players with four or more majors in the trophy cabinet.

The hype now is huge.

How many can Osaka lift? Is it the changing of the guard? Osaka is determined to keep her clarity of thought, to not get influenced by outside voices. 

“I'm taking it in sections. For right now, I'm trying to go for five (majors). I like to take things not big-picture, I like to live in the moment,” stated Osaka, up to world No.2 on Monday, not chasing records.

“I don't want to weigh myself down with pressure and expectations. So, the funny thing is I don't look at expectations as a burden anymore.

“I know that the people that I'm playing against are the best players in the world, and if my time comes to win another Grand Slam, it will come. But right now I can only control what I can control, and that's working hard and giving myself opportunities.”

Throughout the fortnight Osaka would tap her name on the ‘walk of champions’ corridor, which had a name and 2019 printed next to some legendary names.

“I would say it definitely is a good luck charm. When I walk through the tunnel and see my name on the board, I just feel really inspired,” added the 23-year-old. “I wanted to have another year added to that board. I think just touching it, it lets me feel like I get more power. Maybe it's a bit more of a superstition, as well.”

She got her wish on Saturday night with another stellar performance under the gaze of the global audience. 

Osaka joined Monica Seles and Roger Federer as the only players in the Open Era to win their first four Grand Slam finals.

“That's very amazing company, something crazy to hear. I hope that I can, have one grain of how their career has unfolded,” responded Osaka. “You can only wish and you can only just keep going down your own path.”

Injury unfortunately ruled the current US Open champion out of Roland-Garros 2020, but progress on the clay is a clear goal, as well as on the grass of Wimbledon.

“Hopefully clay because it's the one that's sooner,” stated Osaka, keen to improve on three third round spots in Paris. 

“For me, I feel like I have to get comfortable on those surfaces. I didn't play juniors, so I didn't grow up playing on grass at all. I honestly think I'd have better luck on clay, because I think last time (2019) I didn't play bad at all. It's just something that I have to get more used to.”

On and off the court Osaka continues to inspire, fighting racial inequality amongst other causes. She’s truly found her voice on the major stage

“I feel like the biggest thing that I want to achieve is, this is going to sound really odd, but hopefully I play long enough to play a girl that said that I was once her favourite player or something,” added the four-time major champion, dropping one set all fortnight. 

“I think that's the coolest thing that could ever happen to me. I think I have those feelings. Unfortunately, I didn't get to play Li Na, I just think that that's how the sport moves forward like that. 

“Over the years I have just realised he only thing I can do is be myself. There are 500 other tennis players if you want to pick to be your role model. So, I feel it's a really big honour that there are little kids that like me, that come to my matches and cheer for me. But at the same time, I don't weigh it too heavily on myself, because I feel like I'm still growing as a person and hopefully they grow with me maybe.”