Naomi Osaka already is a star at age 23. She has the four Grand Slam titles, the record-breaking endorsement deals and the willingness to speak her mind to prove it.

Now the question is: Where does she go from here?

It was telling that the second question posed to Osaka at the news conference following her 6-4, 6-3 victory over Jennifer Brady in the Australian Open final Saturday — after she took a sip of celebratory bubbly that she said made her “feel a little bit funny” — was about turning in better performances at Wimbledon and the French Open.

Naomi Osaka20210222 800x541 - Osaka eyes more Grand Slam titles
Japan’s Naomi Osaka holds the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup aloft defeating the United States’ Jennifer Brady in the women’s singles final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia on Feb. 20, 2021. AP PHOTO

After all, each of her major championships so far came on hard courts at Melbourne Park (2019, 2021) or the US Open (2018, 2020). She never has been past the third round at the All England Club or Roland Garros.

Even more revealing was Osaka’s response.

Asked whether her first non-hard-court Slam trophy will come on clay or grass, she said: “Hopefully clay, because it’s the one that’s sooner.”

She is not about biding her time or patient improvement.

And she’s been thinking about where she needs to improve.

“It was one of her goals this year to play well outside of the hard courts. She’s still very young. It’s time to grow on those surfaces. She also believes she can do well and, I’m sure, with the right preparation, with a few, maybe, tactical (and) technical adjustments, we’re going to do well,” said her coach, Wim Fissette. “She’s the person that wants to grow.”

Part of what makes Osaka special is embracing challenges and knowing what she stands for. That’s been the case off the court and on. With a racket in her hand, it’s about, as Fissette put it, being able to “love big matches and big moments.”

Osaka wanted to face 23-time major champion Serena Williams in the semifinals, for example. No fear there.

“She was like when I bring my kids to the toy store: They are very excited. And Naomi was excited to go on court with Serena. It’s just beautiful to see,” Fissette said. “At the end, this is what you train for, right? To be on the biggest stage with the best player of all time, Serena.”

Away from the game, Osaka says, it took time to find her voice and express her views.

On Saturday, Osaka was asked whether there was a message she wanted associated with her latest triumph, which made her 4 for 4 in Slam finals.

“Honestly, for me, when everything happened in New York, I got really scared, because I felt like it put me into this light that was a non-athletic light that I’ve never been in before,” she said. “So, I feel like there is a lot of topics that people suddenly started asking me about that I completely didn’t know about at all.”

And yet, in the aftermath of winning the trophy, she was ready to think about a larger role, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *