Tennis

Osaka will be Japan’s first world No. 1: Date

After going from goofball to Grand Slam champion, Naomi Osaka can follow her historic US Open triumph by becoming Japan's first world No. 1, predicts Japanese tennis great Kimiko Date.

Though Osaka's moment of glory was overshadowed by Serena Williams' meltdown during her stunning 6-2, 6-4 upset of her idol at the weekend, the 20-year-old demonstrated she has the game, and the grit, to be a serial winner, according to Date.

"To play like that in her first Grand Slam final was just amazing," Date told AFP.

"To keep your cool like that, from the moment you step onto court to the last point, isn't easy," added the former world No. 4, who reached the Wimbledon semi-finals in 1996.

"If she continues to develop the way she has over the past two weeks and stays motivated, she can go on to be Japan's first world No. 1."

Osaka, a self-confessed Pokemon nerd whose playful nature has made her a favourite on the women's tour, is expected to climb from 19 to seven in the rankings after becoming an unlikely hero in Japan, still reeling after a summer of deadly typhoons and earthquakes.

The first Japanese player, man or woman, to capture a Grand Slam singles title, Osaka won her first WTA tournament at Indian Wells in March when her trophy presentation went viral - "This is probably going to be the worst acceptance speech of all time," she blushed.

Osaka, who is of Haitian-Japanese descent and was raised in the US, replies to questions from Japan's media in English with a subtle Caribbean lilt, frequently apologising for her rudimentary Japanese.

But she has put Japanese tennis firmly on the map with her shock victory over Williams, who was chasing a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles crown.

Fighting fire with fire, Osaka's game mirrors that of the American: big serve, murderous shots off both flanks, particularly the forehand - and a steely determination.

Date likened Osaka to China's Li Na, who retired in 2014 after winning the French and Australian Opens and reaching No. 2 in the world.

"Until now only Li Na had the physique to be able to tackle that kind of power. You could tell Serena was wary of Osaka's power," said Date. - AFP

Tennis