Tennis writer Christopher Clarey summed it up best on Friday when he tweeted: “What a difference 2 years and 4 1/2 months makes.”
That was the thought on everyone’s mind when Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka shared some wonderful embraces and posed for photos together at the Adelaide Super Slam tennis event.
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Williams beat Osaka in their exhibition clash, prevailing 6-2, 2-6, 10-7 in a match tiebreaker.
They then embraced at the net and mingled together for a long while after the match was over, chatting and laughing like good friends.
As many in the tennis world pointed out, it was a very different story at the US Open in 2018 when Osaka was reduced to tears in the post-match ceremony despite winning her maiden grand slam title.
Williams’ controversial actions in the final had taken the shine off Osaka’s victory, with parochial American fans booing during the trophy ceremony, which saw Osaka burst into tears.
Osaka later admitted that Williams had always been her idol and she was gutted with the way her incredible triumph had come about.
But fast-forward to 2021 and Osaka and Williams shared a very different moment on Friday.
“Yesterday with the queen,” Osaka wrote on Instagram alongside photos of her and Serena in Adelaide, as well as one of her as a youngster with her idol.
“Even after all she has achieved, I can’t imagine Naomi Osaka is used to these moments with her idol. Nice to see,” wrote tennis writer Tumaini Carayol.
Commentator Nick McCarvel said his favourite part of the match was seeing Williams and Osaka embrace afterwards.
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) January 29, 2021
Even after all she has achieved, I can't imagine Naomi Osaka is used to these moments with her idol. Nice to see. pic.twitter.com/bO60ve1PPl
— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) January 29, 2021
Serena Williams beats Naomi Osaka 6-2 2-6 10-7 in a match tiebreak, but honestly this was my favorite part of this Adelaide exhibition: pic.twitter.com/dTZdsENq6n
— Nick McCarvel (@NickMcCarvel) January 29, 2021
Serena and Osaka giggling at the benches 🥺✨
— Cameron (@camplustennis) January 29, 2021
By the way, Serena and Osaka so cute. Giggling with each other throughout that match.
Nice to see some friendly competition.
— Really, it’s just Phil. (@philaniems) January 29, 2021
Osaka says Serena still the face of women’s tennis
Osaka on Sunday played down her fast rise into superstardom, believing 23-time grand slam champion Williams remains the “face of women’s tennis”.
The 23-year-old has made a significant splash on and off the court since beating a tempestuous Williams in an infamous US Open final in 2018.
Osaka has since added two more grand slam titles to her rising tally and the World No.3 is one of the favourites at the upcoming Australian Open, which she won two years ago.
The success has made her a firm favourite with fans and sponsors and the Japanese star last year surpassed Williams as the world's highest paid female athlete after a slew of lucrative deals.
Despite her increasing fame and fortune - and prominent advocacy for racial injustice - Osaka believes the seven-time Australian Open champion is still the most influential player on the women's circuit.
“As long as Serena's here, I think she's the face of women's tennis,” Osaka said.
“Honestly I don't feel that way (about being the new face)... there's so many interesting new people. I think I'm one of the new people.”
In her first match since her US Open triumph last year, Osaka fell to Williams in their Adelaide exhibition on Friday after emerging from a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
“I wasn't really taking it too seriously as a match,” the Japanese player admitted.
“But it was fun to be able to hit with her. I just tried to have fun and experiment a little.”
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