Having just captured her fourth career Grand Slam, Naomi Osaka finds herself in elite company. Of active players on the WTA Tour, the 23-year-old trails only Serena Williams, who has 23 Majors, and her older sister, Venus Williams, who has seven Grand Slams to her name. As the winner of the WTA’s last two Grand Slams, Osaka seems poised to add many more to her name in the years ahead.
In the championship match, played inside Rod Laver Arena, Osaka recorded a straight-sets victory over American Jennifer Brady, 6-4 6-3.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 20, 2021
“She brings out her best in the big moments. She knows what she’s doing out there. She’s confident in herself, her game, and her team,” said Brady in the post match press conference about Osaka, who has gone a perfect four for four in Grand Slam finals.
It is interesting to note that Osaka hasn’t lost a Grand Slam quarterfinal, semifinal, or finals match. So it’s safe to say the young tennis superstar from Japan steps it up in the big matches.
In her post championship presser, Osaka spoke about the emotions that comes with winning 2021’s first Major.
“I’m really happy right now. This is a moment that I’ve been working for the entire pre-season,” said Osaka.
The newly crowned Aussie Open champ revealed that while her 2018 US Open trophy is with her parents, she keeps the other two Grand Slam trophies in her living room as a source of inspiration.
“It serves as a really good inspiration. During my pre-season, I would look at the Australian Open trophy from the time before and I would really feel inspired to try to win another one.”
World No. 1 within reach
The 23-year-old from Osaka, Japan–who now resides in Beverley Hills, California–earned 2,000 WTA points for her title victory in Melbourne, and is now within striking distance of the World No. 1 ranking.
However, as Osaka points out, chasing down Ashleigh Barty for top spot in the rankings is not a key motivator for her at this point.
“Honestly, I don’t really think about the rankings at all. For me, I don’t play the most tournaments on the Tour. I just want to do well in the tournaments that I play in,” she said.
“I don’t want to think too much about the rankings. It’ll come if I play well and that’s what I told myself.”
Even though she might not be officially recognized as the top ranked player, based on her success in the Grand Slams Osaka is being regarded by many as the player to take over from Serena Williams as the most dominant player in the game.
It was Osaka who ended Williams’ run at a potential record tying 24th Grand Slam when she defeated the American, 6-3, 6-4, in the semifinals.
There is even been some speculation that Williams might be contemplating retirement at some point in the near future.
While the 39-year-old American legend might be nearing the end of incredible journey on the tennis courts, it’s safe to say that at only 23 years old, Osaka’s journey is very much just getting started.
And she’s come such a long way since her first big breakthrough as a bright-eyed 20-year-old which happened at Indian Wells back in early 2018.
If you want to understand Naomi Osaka's growth over the last three years, just compare that really nice and fluid acceptance speech to her speech after first ever title in Indian Wells 2018. pic.twitter.com/HprNfmN5fq
— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) February 20, 2021
Of course that big victory propelled Osaka to her first Grand Slam title later that year at the 2018 US Open, where she defeated Williams in the championship match.
Osaka would follow up her 2018 US Open triumph by winning the 2019 Aussie Open as she outlasted Petra Kvitova in an epic three-setter in the finals. And in the 2020 pandemic year, Osaka beat Victora Azarenka to capture the US Open for the second time on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
What does the future hold for Naomi Osaka?
Now with four Majors to her name, the 23-year-old Osaka is naturally hungry for more. One former tennis great, Mats Wilander, predicts that if Osaka can stay healthy, she might be able to win 10 Majors over her career.
“I have four right now, I’m trying to go for five,” she said.
“But I don’t want to weigh myself down with pressure and expectations. I know the people that I play against are the best in the world,” Naomi Osaka added thoughtfully.
“If my time comes to win another Grand Slam, it will come; but for right now I can only control what I can control and that is working hard and giving myself opportunities.”
Main Photo from Getty.