Naomi Osaka has just won her fourth Grand Slam singles title, and at 23 she is already the highest earning female athlete in the world. Needless to say, there are many more records that Osaka could aim for in the future. But for now, her biggest goal is to play long enough so that she can one day compete against a youngster who considers the Japanese to be her favorite player.
Naomi Osaka herself idolized Li Na while growing up, and she regrets not having had the chance to play against the Chinese star.
Li Na was the first Grand Slam singles champion, male or female, from Asia. But she retired from the tour in September 2014, around a year after Osaka turned pro.
"I feel like the biggest thing that I want to achieve is … this is going to sound really odd, but hopefully I play long enough to play a girl that said that I was once her favourite player or something," Osaka said. "I think that's the coolest thing that could ever happen to me. I just think that that's how the sport moves forward."
By firmly establishing her status as a multiple Grand Slam winner and a leading voice for social change, Naomi Osaka has become one of the most influential figure in sports and a role model for millions across the globe. But while some might find that to be a burden, Osaka looks at it as a privilege.
"I don't look at expectations as a burden anymore," Osaka said. "I feel like I'm at the point now where it's something that I've worked for. Like, people wouldn't expect things from me if I hadn't done things prior, if that makes sense."
"I feel like no one has expected things of me when I was younger," she added. "And now that I have kind of climbed up the ranks, of course there's going to be more pressures, but I feel like also that's motivation, because I also want to do better for myself, as well."
"Hopefully clay because that's sooner" - Naomi Osaka on which non-hardcourt Slam she will win first
Naomi Osaka's victory on Saturday marked extended her unbeaten streak to 21 matches. Her last loss came over a year ago, before the tennis circuit was brought to a halt by the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of Naomi Osaka's four Grand Slams have come on hardcourts so far (two at the Australian Open and two at the US Open). When asked which non-hardcourt Major she was likely to win first, the Japanese icon picked the French Open since "it’s the one that’s sooner".
"Hopefully clay because it’s the one that’s sooner," Osaka stated. "For me, I feel like I have to get comfortable on those surfaces. That’s the key thing that, you know, I didn’t play juniors, so I didn’t grow up playing on grass at all."
"So I honestly think I’d have better luck on clay, because I think last year I didn’t play bad at all," she added. "It’s just something that I have to get more used to."