Naomi Osaka made history as the first Japanese woman to play in the US Open final.
She is also the youngest woman in the world’s Top 20 players.
Serena Williams has been her longtime idol. Last September 2018, Osaka defeated her hero earning another feather on her cap as the first Japanese to win a Grand Slam.
NowThis bares Osaka’s heart and soul before that match.
Osaka says playing against Williams in the finals felt “’surreal.”
“Even when I was a little kid, I always dreamed that I would play Serena in a final of a Grand Slam,” she says. “So just the fact that it’s happening is, I’m very happy, happy about it. But at the same time, I feel like I shouldn’t really think of her as, like, my idol, I should just, like, try to play her as an opponent.”
The US Open is the not the first time Osaka faced her idol. She already beat Williams at the 2018 Miami Open. It was in that game that William described Osaka as a talented and a very dangerous opponent.
“Every day that I practice and there’s no one watching,” Osaka says, “it sort of builds up to the moment where I can play on the big stadiums and I can play against the best tennis players. So, I feel like that’s what all the hard work I’ve put in leads up to.”
But working hard and making it big in the world of tennis has also put Osaka’s biracial heritage in the spotlight. Osaka is a Hafu, or a person with only one Japanese parent.
“I can understand way more Japanese than I can speak,” Osaka shares. “When I go to Japan people are confused, from my name, they don’t expect to see a black girl. It’s interesting. I feel there’s not really anybody like me.”
Her biracial heritage made Osaka face backlash on and off the court. But her fans are quick to stand up for her.
“Naomi, just do what you do! There are many of us who love and support you,” one fan said. “Believe in yourself and shun the negative people!”
Stuart Duguid, her agent, sees Osaka as an ambassador of change.
“I hope that she’s changed cultural perceptions in Japan,” Duguid emphasizes. “I hope she’s opened the door for other people to follow, not just in tennis or sports, but for all society.”