Japanese fans celebrate Osaka’s rise to top of tennis world
By JIM ARMSTRONG
The Associated Press
TOKYO — Japanese fans celebrated Naomi Osaka’s Australian Open title on Saturday, saying her win will serve as an inspiration to future generations.
Osaka beat Petra Kvitova 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-4 to claim a second consecutive Grand Slam title. The 21-year-old Osaka also becomes the first tennis player from Japan to reach No. 1 in the rankings.
Osaka was born in Japan — her mother is Japanese, her father is Haitian — and she moved to New York at age 3.
“As a Japanese person, I’m very proud,” said 28-year Satoshi Mizutani, who works in finance. “She showed a lot of character in coming back after dropping the second set. I think she is an inspiration to young people in Japan who can learn to do whatever they want if they work hard for it.”
A loyal throng of fans gathered at Legends sports bar in the Roppongi entertainment district, braving bitterly cold temperatures in Tokyo to watch Osaka’s match.
“I never imagined in my lifetime that a Japanese player would reach No. 1,” said 43-year-old Daisuke Aizawa. “Tennis is already popular here but this will just add to its popularity and I’m sure more young people will take up the sport now.”
Osaka has been a star in Japan since she beat Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final last year. She became the first woman to win back-to-back majors since Williams in 2015.
Her performance at the Australian Open has topped daily news coverage in Japan.
“Osaka becomes first Japanese Australian Open champion, Heading to World No. 1,” read the headline of the Nikkansports online edition.
Osaka’s results on the court and her quirky sense of humor have sent her popularity skyrocketing, and her list of endorsements now includes major brands like Adidas, Nissan, Yonex, Citizen, Nissin and Shiseido.
Osaka’s victory at the U.S. Open was the first Grand Slam singles title by either a man or woman of Japanese nationality.
Kimiko Date reached the semifinals of the Australian Open in 1994, the 1995 French Open and Wimbledon in 1996 but never made it to a Grand Slam final.
On the men’s side, Kei Nishikori was runner-up at the 2014 US Open, losing to Marin Cilic in the final.
Osaka’s rise to the top of the tennis world couldn’t come at a better time. With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics just over a year away she could become the face of the games.
“It would be fantastic to see her represent Japan,” Aizawa said. “I think she would be the favorite to win gold and that would be a huge boost for Japan.”