Tennis is in safe hands with Naomi Osaka at the helm.
Once someone who regularly described herself as the “most awkward” player on tour, the Japanese star is now the leader of the women’s game, ready to take over from Serena Williams in on-court success and off-court activism when the American legend eventually hangs her racquet up.
No longer is Osaka the shy, inexperienced newbie on the circuit. After beating Jennifer Brady in straight sets to win her fourth grand slam title — a second Australian Open crown to go with her two US Opens — the new world No. 2’s growth was on hand for all to see.
She kept her composure during the final at Melbourne Park then expressed herself eloquently during the post-match presentation after it — a far cry from the first time Osaka ever had to step up to the microphone with a trophy in hand.
That took place at Indian Wells in 2018 when Osaka was a nervous, giggling wreck after beating Daria Kasatkina for her maiden WTA title.
Initially forgetting to congratulate Kasatkina, Osaka kept being interrupted by her own laughter and thought out loud about who she was forgetting to give a shout-out to.
“This is probably going to be the worst acceptance speech of all time,” she said.
If you want to understand Naomi Osaka's growth over the last three years, just compare that really nice and fluid acceptance speech to her speech after first ever title in Indian Wells 2018. pic.twitter.com/HprNfmN5fq
It wasn’t — and the nerves were perfectly understandable for someone so young — but boy has Osaka come a long way since then.
She’s become a marketer’s dream, and last year was unveiled as the world’s highest-paid female athlete. Osaka has also become more comfortable in her own skin, hitting out at those daring to criticise her for posting bikini photos on Instagram.
The 23-year-old became the face of tennis during the Black Lives Matter movement, taking it upon herself to speak up when nobody else would, even taking the extraordinary step of withdrawing from a semi-final in protest against racial injustice.
Osaka’s new-found growth was on full display during a mature acceptance speech as she took hold of the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy at Rod Laver Arena.
As tennis writer Tumaini Carayol pointed out in the tweet above: “If you want to understand Naomi Osaka’s growth over the last three years, just compare that really nice and fluid acceptance speech to her speech after first ever title in Indian Wells 2018.”
There were still glimpses of that trademark Osaka whimsy as she trolled Brady at the beginning, but her words carried a gravitas and authority that were missing at Indian Wells.
Her praise of Brady was thoughtful and genuine, references to the American’s family and friends were a classy touch and her appreciation of the crowd was the perfect note to finish on.
Tennis reporter Courtney Nguyen tweeted: “Um … can we put this speech side by side with her IW speech lol.”
Tim Callanan wrote: “Typically classy speech from Naomi Osaka. What a jewel she is for the sport. Long may she reign.”
Sports writer Zenia D’Cunha added: “Unpopular opinion: @naomiosaka’s post-winning speech, especially the bit to Jen Brady, beats Naomi Osaka’s terrific @AusOpen final! She’s such a class act overall.”
Winners are grinners.Source:AFP
OSAKA’S SPEECH IN FULL
“Firstly, I want to congratulate Jennifer. We played in the semis of the US Open a couple of months ago and I told everyone that would listen that you’re gonna be a problem, and I was right,” Osaka said.
“It’s really incredible, for me it’s hard to play you and to see your growth over the past few months is really cool. I know that you’re probably working very hard, so I want to congratulate your team over there as well.
“I know for me, my team is like my family, so I’m sure you guys have a lot of really cool adventures together. So congratulations to you guys as well.
“I know you talked about your mum, so I’m sure she’s really proud of you. I for sure know that, you know, everyone, your friends and your family, are definitely very proud of you.
“I think we’re gonna play a lot more matches, so here’s to that.
“I’d like to thank my team. I’ve been with them too long — a month and some change — we’ve been through quarantine together. For me they’re like my family. They’re the ones with me through my training, through my matches, through my … nervous talks before my matches, and I’m really appreciative towards them, so I really want to thank you guys. This one’s for you.
“Last but not least I want to thank you guys (the crowd). Thank you for coming and watching.
“It feels really incredible for me. I didn’t play my last grand slam with fans, so just to have this energy, it really means a lot. Thank you so much for coming.
“Thank you for opening your hearts and your arms towards us. For sure I feel like playing a grand slam right now is a super privilege and it’s something I won’t take for granted, so thank you for this opportunity.
“Thank you to the ballkids, the volunteers, Craig Tiley — the tournament director — everyone for making this tournament possible.
“Hopefully we’ll be back next year. Thank you guys so much.”
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