“On the Fringes” is a column that highlights sports that often do not receive as much coverage as the major sports. In these sports there are amazing moments and incredible athletes that this column looks to recognize.
After winning her third Grand Slam title on Saturday in the U.S. Open, Naomi Osaka has solidified herself as the new face of women’s tennis.
This is not a surprise to those who follow the sport. Many thought that Osaka, who broke onto the scene when she defeated Serena Williams in the 2018 U.S. Open final, might eventually take over the role from one of the all-time greats, but few expected her to take over in the way she has both on and off the court.
Osaka, the biracial daughter of a Japanese mother and Haitan father, has now won three Grand Slams,before the age of 23, the first women’s player since Maria Sharapova in 2008 to accomplish that feat. She is also the first woman from Asia to have been ranked number one in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association and the first Japanese player to win a grand slam singles title.
Osaka has taken the mantle of highest earning female athlete from Serena Williams with Osaka set to make $37.4 million this year.
While all the accolades and accomplishments are impressive, what makes Osaka’s game one of the best is her attitude and her perseverance. It’s obvious that she is enjoying the game by her reaction to winning points and her ability to stay calm when she is not playing at her best. That ability provides her with perseverance she needs in the match. In both the semifinal and the final of this year’s U.S. Open, Osaka was not flustered when she found herself down 1-0. In both matches she was able to come back to win the next two sets and the match.
Her positive attitude also keeps her from the angry outbursts that plague so many tennis stars. Just this year in the men’s bracket, N0. 1-seeded Novak Djokovic took out his frustration during his match by hitting a ball toward the back of the court, hitting one of the line judges. For his reckless actions Djokavic was defaulted from his match.
Although Osaka has restrained from having any major outbursts like Djokovic, she has not always been so upbeat during her matches. Last year before the 2019 U.S. Open, Osaka was struggling to find the joy in tennis with all the pressure that came with being one of the best in the world, but now she has embraced the role of being an international superstar. It makes Osaka, who always had elite skills, one of the most exciting players to watch.
As she has become a sensation on the court, the usually quiet Osaka has also become the loudest voice in the fight for social justice in the sport of tennis.
On Aug. 26, the day that the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to play in their NBA playoff game in protest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, Osaka chose to stand in solidarity with the Bucks and refused to play her semifinal match in the Western and Southern Open. Once Osaka made the decision not to play, the rest of tennis followed her lead and cancelled all matches scheduled for that day.
Then, during the U.S. Open, she raised awareness on a global scale by wearing a mask with the name of a different Black victim of police brutality before each match.
What Osaka is doing is inspirational but the fact that she is just 22 years old, the age when most people graduate from college, makes it all the more incredible.
She has no fear on the court, and she clearly is not going to shy away from the important issues. By doing so, she has become a leader in tennis.
Many, both within and outside the sport of tennis, are excited to see where her journey takes her from here. While there is still a question of whether we will see Osaka at the French Open in less than two weeks, there is no doubt that she will be the face of the game for years to come.
“On the Fringes” runs every other Thursday.