Osaka, the new star

Osaka embraces ‘special’ homecoming as New York heroics sink in

Naomi Osaka all smile at the US Open 2018©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Tokyo airport was a sea of flashing camera bulbs as Naomi Osaka made her homecoming as a Grand Slam champion last week.

The 20-year-old has been swept up in the spotlight having toppled idol Serena Williams in a chaotic final in New York to lift a maiden major.


Realising the gravitas of what she achieved

Life has been completely shifted for Osaka, who hung out with LeBron James and Channing Tatum as a guest on the Ellen DeGeneres show. That appearance could have been overawing for Osaka, who doesn’t relish the limelight, but she was composed, witty and appeared her true self.

The endorsements are piling up too, including a mega deal with Nissan, which is handy as the world No.7 doesn’t own a car!

“I’ve never had like - oh my God it’s so bright - so many people coming to a press conference before so for sure it’s sinking in now,” declared Osaka, realising the gravitas of what she achieved at the US Open whilst on press duties in Tokyo.

Osaka has been touted as a top player for a few years now, the ferocious tennis unleashed on the courts at Flushing Meadows has been in her artillery for a couple of seasons.

Rewind just two years to the Pan Pacific Open and Osaka stormed into the final in Tokyo as a teenage wildcard, eventually falling to Caroline Wozniacki 7-5, 6-3, to truly announce herself on the WTA Tour.

"The coolest thing"

This time last year the Japanese star had chalked up an impressive collection of consistency at the highest level, reaching the third round at all the majors.

However, it is the past six months that have launched Osaka into prominence to lead the ‘Next Gen’ to dominate the next decade.

GQ magazine published a shoot with Osaka back in March, highlighting her unique style, comical social media posts and witty remarks. They posed the question, "Naomi Osaka is the coolest thing in tennis, but can she be the sport’s next champion?”

Well, lifting the trophy at Indian Wells sent out a signal that Osaka was ready to challenge and clinch the prestigious prizes.

Naomi Osaka hiding behind her cap US Open 2018©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
“I do things on my own“

Over to New York and a fortnight or flawless, explosive, but calculated tennis enabled the 20-year-old to piece together all her potential.

An inform Aryna Sabalenka was the only player to take a set off Osaka, who became the first Japanese player ever to win a Grand Slam singles title.

The ruthless 6-2, 6-4 demolition of Williams in the final was somewhat overshadowed by the American’s game penalty controversy.

Osaka was tearful at Championship point and let all her emotions flood out during the trophy presentation.

“I’m grateful that people care or sympathise but I don’t really think there was anything to be sad about,” explained Osaka in Tokyo.  “I don’t feel like I would’ve liked to savour the moment more, I think I do things my own way and everyone is different in their own way so I don’t really have any regrets.”

First time as a Grand Slam champion

On Wednesday, Osaka will compete for the first time as a Grand Slam champion up against the dangerous Dominika Cibulkova. 

Back on home soil as a major winner, where she burst onto the scene in 2016, is a moment Osaka will savour.

"I've played a lot more matches between then and now," added the US Open winner.

"I'm a little bit more mature now so of course having that experience helps - and being more confident in yourself too.

"I've played here for many years and got to the final once, so this tournament is very special to me."