Japan’s Naomi Osaka made a splash at the US Open when she fell one game short of upsetting Madison Keys on Arthur Ashe Stadium. It wasn’t her only successful main-draw debut at a major this year—the 18-year-old also reached the third round at Roland Garros and the Australian Open (where she had to qualify).
“I’m happy with the way I play at Slams 'cause they're very important to me,” Osaka said in New York, “but I kind of wish I could transfer the feeling like to the other tournaments.”
Now ranked a career-high No. 66, the hard-serving teen is aiming to ride her momentum through the season-ending Asian swing. Already, she’s added another milestone to her 2016 season in reaching the semifinals of the WTA Premier in Tokyo. As a wild card entry, Osaka beat compatriot Misaki Doi (who happens to be the only Japanese player ranked ahead of her) and former Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova—by the lopsided score of 6-2, 6-1—and will face Elina Svitolina in the semifinals.
Also finally won a match at Toray hahaha. pic.twitter.com/YzoL1hbx8q— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@NaomiOsakaWTA) September 19, 2016
Aside from sitting safely inside the Top 100 and quickly becoming one of the tour’s must-watch prospects, she’s also a must-follow on social media. Osaka comes off as a normal teenager, posting about Japanese anime, Harry Potter and her love for sushi. She maintains a serious, steely poker face on the court, but lets the jokes fly on Twitter and Instagram.
Wow can you tell which pixel I am? pic.twitter.com/LKiZ91XAUI— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@NaomiOsakaWTA) September 19, 2016
SCREAMING???? I almost liked someone's post from 2 months ago. Omg my thumb slipped and almost ruined my life. I'm never stalking again. #died— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@NaomiOsakaWTA) September 16, 2016
Me every time I see a new person follow me. pic.twitter.com/4zTkfzoRTD— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@NaomiOsakaWTA) September 14, 2016
The phenom has caught the attention of Serena Williams, an esteemed compliment for any young talent.
“I have seen her play,” Williams said in Melbourne this year. “She's really young and really aggressive. She's a really good, talented player. Very dangerous.”
Osaka’s background is as unique has her skill set: her father hails from Haiti while her mother is Japanese. (Her birthplace? Osaka, Japan.) The Japanese Tennis Association supports Osaka, but she trains in Florida. She's already been noticed for her huge serve, one that helps her execute swift one-two punches to hold serve handily often.
Naturally, during her time in Tokyo this week, the 5’11 Osaka has a massive following, contrary to what she experienced while playing an American at the U.S. Open last month. At that time, she was asked if she feels like she’s pretty well-known at this point. She answered with a simple “no,” but given her potential and steady rise up the rankings, that could all change very soon—no matter where she plays.
The poster in the back ???????????? みんあ ありがとう❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/0s406qgZ4Z— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@NaomiOsakaWTA) September 17, 2016