In the 21st century, the women’s tennis has seen the rise and fall of many players. Starting with the Williams sisters era, where the grand slam was tossed up between Venus and Serena, to the 2004 Wimbledon, where a 17-year old Maria Sharapova shook the tennis world with her victory over Serena in the final.
Since then, an injury-ridden Sharapova has retired after winning five Grand Slams while Williams is still continuing strong with 23. We were just getting used to the ubiquitous Williams triumph at every major tournament, barring the occasional upsets that threw up names such as Garbine Muguruza, Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep most recently — all of them great in their own right but not enough for the kind of stardom that makes for a phenomenon.
In short, there hasn’t been a prominent name. The women’s single has always been anyone’s game but doesn’t seem the same now as we see the emergence of Naomi Osaka.
It was the last grand slam in 2018 and a young Osaka was up against the might Serena Williams, who was gunning for her 24th major. But the match was full of controvershy, Osaka eventually winning and stopping Serena.
However, what the world got was a dramatic women’s singles final that saw Williams in a war of words with the match umpire, accusations of sexism, the crowd booing and Osaka in tears
And what happened on that podium in September 2018, shared by tennis greats Chris Evert, Billie Jean King and Williams, was that a star called Naomi Osaka was born.
Naomi Osaka won her 4th grand slam in Melbourne
In Melbourne last week, the 23-year-old left little doubt about her current place in women’s tennis with another dominant performance. Defeating Jennifer Brady in the final, Osaka notched her fourth major title, tying her with Kim Clijsters and trailing just Serena and Venus Williams among active players – and is now on a 21-match win streak.
While her straight-set victory over Serena Williams in the semifinals garnered most of the attention during her run in Melbourne, it was perhaps her match against two-time Slam champion Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round that was the most impressive.
Pushed to the brink in the third set and down 5-3, Osaka staved off two match points and never looked back. She won the next three games and advanced, ultimately becoming the eighth woman in the Open era to win the Australian Open after saving a match point.
With her latest triumph, as well as her current activism and celebrity off the court, Osaka is unquestionably the new face of the sport.
On first look, Osaka is a shy girl who loves keeping her headphones on and usually always has a straight face. However, her press conferences and her social media accounts offer occasional glimpses of her candour peppered with some self-deprecating humour.
Osaka has been a voice on as well as off the court. She can be shy but when she speaks, the world takes notice. A case in point would be when she most recently made her stand against the repeated police violence that the Black community in the US have been facing for years, be known at a time when not much noise about it was being made in the world of tennis.
While the men’s tour is yet to find a ‘prominent’ figure to carry the legacy of the Big 3, the women’s tour in the hands of Naomi Osaka looks perfect!