Naomi Osaka is on top of the tennis world right now with a dominating semifinal performance against Serena Williams, an Australian Open trophy in her hands and a fourth consecutive Grand Slam title in four tries, an unmatched feat.
At 23 years old, she has potentially decades of tennis in front of her and is seen as the heir apparent to Williams' throne when the 23-time Grand Slam winner retires from the sport.
But Osaka doesn't view her ultimate achievement in terms of Grand Slams or trophies or money earned.
Osaka's 'odd' achievement she wants to see
Her biggest achievement would come if years from now we see a match play out similarly to what we've seen from Osaka vs. Williams over the past handful of years.
"Hopefully I play long enough to play a girl that said I was once her favourite player."@naomiosaka is winning Grand Slams and inspiring tennis stars of the future 💙✨#AusOpen | #AO2021 pic.twitter.com/BaYA3JkZhx
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 20, 2021
She shared what she wants to see after defeating Jennifer Brady in the 2021 Australian Open final on Saturday.
"I feel like the biggest thing I want to achieve is — this is going to sound really odd. Hopefully I play long enough to play a girl that said that I was once her favorite player or something. For me, I think that's the coolest thing that could ever happen to me. I think I have those feelings of watching my favorite players. Unfortunately I didn't get to play Li Na, but, yeah. I just think that that's how the sport moves forward."
Li is a former Chinese tennis player who reached No. 2 in the world in February 2014 after winning the Australian Open. She also has a Grand Slam victory at Roland Garros in 2011. Li was the first Grand Slam singles champion from Asia in either the men's or women's game and was the first player representing Asia to even compete in a Grand Slam final. She retired in September of 2014 at the age of 32 and was inducted in 2019 to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, again the first Asian-born player to do so.
Osaka does get to play Williams
Osaka, who was born in Japan, turned professional in September of 2013 and while she didn't get to face her favorite player, she has faced Williams, a competitor she's called her "idol." The two are 16 years apart and some look at Osaka as the legacy Williams leaves behind, the same way Osaka said facing a favorite player is how the sport moves forward.
Their semifinal showed that, with Williams taking an early lead but Osaka storming back to prime form and dismantling the tennis queen with an almost easy stride.
Williams turns 40 this year and there are questions about the end of her career, though she admitted she'd never tell anyone if it were the end. Osaka was asked after the win if things had begun to shift so that Williams is no longer the face of tennis, and rather Osaka is now it.
"No. Not at all," she said in her shortest answer of a reflective 37-minute news conference.
But she will be soon, pushing the sport forward for another round.
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