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Naomi Osaka turns 24: Looking back at five memorable matches from the Japanese's career

Naomi Osaka won her fourth Grand Slam title this year.
Naomi Osaka won her fourth Grand Slam title this year.
Rohit R
ANALYST

Naomi Osaka, who has cemented herself as a tennis icon, turned 24 on Saturday. Since her breakthrough in 2018, Osaka has gone on to win four Grand Slam titles, joining Monica Seles and Roger Federer as the only players to win their first four Grand Slam finals.

She also became the first Asian player to be ranked number one in singles and one of the highest-paid athletes in the world.

Along with her tennis, Naomi Osaka is also known for her activism, with the Japanese a staunch advocate of social justice.

In honor of her 24th birthday, we take a look at some of Naomi Osaka's best matches, where she's managed to turn things around by playing some of her finest tennis.

#5 Naomi Osaka survives Hsieh Su-Wei's craftiness (Australian Open 2019)

As a spectator, watching Hsieh Su-Wei is a joy. But if you're on the other side of the net, it can be quite a nightmare. In the 2019 Australian Open, Naomi Osaka almost succumbed to the Taiwanese's trickery in their third-round encounter.

The Japanese lost a closely contested first set 7-5. She soon found herself in even deeper trouble, going down 4-1 in the second set. However, Osaka kickstarted one of her trademark comebacks, winning the next five games to clinch the second set.

Osaka stomped her authority in the deciding set as she didn't face a single break point and broke Hsieh's serve thrice to clinch the match 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.

#4 Naomi Osaka brings Bianca Andreescu's winning streak to an end (China Open 2019)

After winning her second consecutive Grand Slam title at the 2019 Australian Open and becoming World No. 1, Naomi Osaka's form took a nosedive. While the Japanese was posting mediocre results, another star was on the rise in the shape of Bianca Andreescu, who took the tennis world by storm in 2019.

The Canadian won two WTA 1000 titles and her maiden Grand Slam at the US Open. Heading into the China Open, Andreescu had not lost a match since March and had won all of her matches against top-10 opponents during that period.

Osaka and Andreescu met in the quarterfinals of the China Open, with the Canadian winning the opening set 7-5. Andreescu, who had built an aura of invincibility at that point in time, appeared to be cruising to another victory when she led 3-1 in the second set.

But the Japanese had other plans and upped her level to win the set by claiming five games on the trot.

The final set saw some inspired tennis from both women, but it was Osaka who gained the upper hand after going up a break in the ninth game. She then served out the match to complete a 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 win and end Andreescu's unbeaten run.

#3 Naomi Osaka defeats World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty to win her third title of 2019 (China Open 2019)

Naomi Osaka and Ashleigh Barty were the only two women to hold the top spot in the WTA rankings for a significant period in 2019, so when they set up a championship clash at the China Open, the excitement was palpable.

The Australian had saved a match point in her semifinal encounter and played fearless tennis to win the first set 6-3 in the final. Barty's variety meant the Japanese was finding it difficult to make any significant inroads.

However, Osaka didn't let that deter her and stepped up her game in the next set, winning it 6-3 and forcing a decider. The final set saw Naomi Osaka play some of her best tennis as she ultimately overcame the World No. 1 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

#2 Naomi Osaka's nerves of steel steer her to a second Grand Slam title (Australian Open 2019)

Naomi Osaka reached her second consecutive Grand Slam final at the 2019 Australian Open, where she came up against two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova.

The two went toe-to-toe in the first set, with Osaka having two set points at 6-5 on the Czech's serve but failing to convert. But the Japanese played a flawless tiebreak to win the opening set 7-6(2).

The second set was a back-and-forth affair as both players broke each other early on. Osaka eventually earned three match points while Kvitova was serving to stay in the match at 4-5, but couldn't convert any of them. The Japanese's disappointment was evident in her gameplay as she went on to lose the set 5-7.

Having squandered such a glorious opportunity to win the match, it would have been natural for Osaka to go into her shell. But the Japanese showed the world what she was made of and secured a lone break of serve in the final set to clinch her second Grand Slam title.

#1 Naomi Osaka saves match points in fourth round against Muguruza, goes on to win her fourth Grand Slam title (Australian Open 2021)

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Naomi Osaka and Garbine Muguruza both made red-hot starts to 2021 and were thus among the favorites to win the Australian Open. The Japanese was in the midst of an unbeaten run that started the previous year at the Cincinnati Open.

When the two met in the fourth round, a battle royale was expected and they didn't disappoint. Osaka gained an early advantage in the first set, but Muguruza fought back to level proceedings and eventually take the opener 6-4.

The Japanese went down a break to start the second set, but staged a comeback to win it 6-4 and force a decider. The deciding set was tense right from the start with the two women giving it their all.

At 2-2, Osaka had a break point but couldn't convert and promptly lost her own serve the following game. The Japanese had another opportunity to get back on serve at 4-3, but squandered it. Serving at 5-3 to stay in the match, Osaka was under immense pressure.

Muguruza quickly went 40-15 up and had two match points on Osaka's serve. With her back against the wall, the Japanese had no choice but to come up with her best tennis.

Osaka saved both match points and didn't make a single unforced error for the rest of the contest. The Spaniard never recovered and conceded the match 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.

Naomi Osaka would go on to defeat Hsieh Su-wei, Serena Williams and Jennifer Brady in the next three rounds to lift her fourth Grand Slam title.


Edited by Arvind Sriram

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