When you look at the photos of Naomi Osaka winning the 2017 U.S. Open women’s singles title, she is a little less innocent than her contemporaries in the sport, who often portray their players as likable and accessible, unafraid to cry after a big win, or just plain human.
The U.S. Open is known as the Queen’s Cup. (For fashion, which is usually dry, it is the furs that hold it together.) The U.S. Open finals are typically held at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Naomi Osaka had been part of the U.S. Open since day one of qualifying. Standing outside the stadium, sniffing her way through the bagels she had just purchased to take for breakfast, she would have been a long shot against her mostly top-seeded opponents. She never had much chance against Victoria Azarenka in the first round, and Milos Raonic, whose only major victories had come against poorly matched opponents, should have given her little chance.
Instead, she kept in the match and ended up as the final American woman to win a major this year.
Naomi Osaka is one of the few top-ranked players who speaks English rather than Japanese, and that seems to have opened doors for her at a time when some of her more often playing Japanese compatriots never open them to begin with. In 2015, for example, the WTA Tour made changes to its rules about visas, meaning players could be hired by tours in other countries without having to go through the U.S. consulate at first. Few of the seeded Japanese players would travel to Canada for a tournament, and the potential for complications if their visa application were denied in the States was considered in the decision to change the regulations.
Naomi Osaka did not visit Canada, but she was finally able to study up on hockey and fell in love with the sport. By the time she was 16, she was a ranked singles player. She first came to the United States with her family when she was 11, first enrolled in a school for tennis and soccer players at Edison Park Tennis Center in Honolulu, where they made her the youngest high school player on the all-girls team.
When she was 18, her older sister Amelie took her out on the court. “She gave me the biggest stroke ever,” Naomi Osaka said in a New York Times piece about her sister.
After high school, she enrolled at IMG Academy, and six years later, she was in the stands at Arthur Ashe Stadium. She took the win with her.
“I’m so excited I get to carry this ‘Naomi Osaka’ on with me in the future,” she said, fighting back tears, after the match.
As the Year closes, remember what happened there in September.