Getting to know soaring Naomi Osaka

 - Alex Sharp

The ‘Sunshine Swing’ of Indian Wells and Miami was a memorable fortnight for Naomi Osaka.

The 20-year-old relinquished just a single set to topple Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Karolina Pliskova, world No.1 Simona Halep and Daria Kasatkina to lift the Indian Wells trophy.

This was the Japanese prodigy’s first WTA title to become the first unseeded champion in the Californian desert since Kim Clijsters in 2005.

First forward to Miami and Osaka ousted her idol Serena Williams, before Elina Svitolina halted the remarkable run.

If you don’t know who Naomi Osaka is, then where have you been? Here are some pointers to help you get to know the latest star threatening to rule the tennis roster.

Coach Sasha has unlocked the potential

Sascha Bajin joined to coach Osaka at the end of 2017. 

He has previously developed from a hitting partner to an assistant coach with Serena, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki.

Well, the Osaka movement and backhand have been targeted and Bajin’s words of wisdom have immediately had an impact.

Something has clicked. Osaka has always possessed power with a laser 125mph serve and 100mph plus forehand, but the German is making her play smarter tennis, knowing when to strike.

“It’s really a pleasant working environment,” said Bajin. “The goal is to use pure power more effectively. If she gets even more understanding of how she can use this power, then we have the next champion.”

Quite the statement but the signs are promising.

Osaka is a joy on social media

If you haven’t followed Osaka on social media yet. Stop reading this – please return - and treat yourself to her Twitter (@Naomi_Osaka_) and Instagram (@naomiosakatennis).

The amiable youngster is very softly spoken, but giggles through interviews and is an extremely engaging personality.

Just watch her Indian Wells acceptance speech and try not to laugh.

But social media is where she truly displays her wicked sense of humour.

It can be pretty self-deprecating, sarcastic and is a refreshing approach to the heavily sponsored content flying around online.

Tennis runs in the Osaka family

Could we have two Osaka’s soaring up the tennis rankings? 

Mari is the older sister of Naomi and is also a professional tennis player.

The 21-year-old is currently ranked at No.301 in the world and the duo have occasionally team up in doubles on the Tour.

A fascinating family heritage

Naomi is proud of her roots.

The world No.22’s father is from Haiti and her mother is from Japan.

The Indian Wells champion herself was aptly born in Osaka, Japan, but moved to the USA at the age of three.

From there she grew up in Florida, encapsulated in the local tennis scene. Osaka still remains a Florida resident and trains there when not travelling the globe on Tour.

“I can understand way more Japanese than I can speak,” stated Osaka, who plays under the Japanese flag. Sadly for their local press, Naomi’s sense of humour doesn’t translate… just yet!

Osaka thinks of Serena’s tactics during matches

It’s not too surprising, but like a host of tennis protégés, Serena Williams is Osaka’s idol.

“If I was watching, I’d be cheering for Serena…I just wanted her to know who I am at the end of the match,” admitted the 20-year-old having prevailed past her favourite player in a memorable Miami victory.

What is pretty astonishing is this revelation: "Sometimes when I'm in a really hard position when I'm serving, I'm like 'what would Serena do?...' but I was playing her."

That visualisation clearly worked on the Sunshine Swing.

Whilst we’re on Serena… the American spotted Osaka early on

The triumph in Indian Wells has been a long time coming for Osaka.

The Japanese made a WTA debut in 2014, developing steadily before a breakout in 2016 to be crowned the ‘WTA newcomer of the year’.

2017 saw Osaka continuing to soar and illustrated her progression by dismantling reigning champion Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-1 in the US Open first round

Osaka has reached at least the third round at all the Grand Slams now, has the versatility and power to dictate on all surfaces.

Well, Serena saw it coming.

“I have seen her play. She’s really young and really aggressive. She’s a really good, talented player,” declared Williams back at the 2016 Australian Open. “She’s very dangerous.”

The most astonishing aspect is Osaka is still only 20!

A trophy in hand, an inspiring coach and blockbuster victories to her name. Serena recognised the ‘danger’ of Osaka, who is now ready to challenge the elite for Major honours.