The 2018 U.S. Open Women’s Final got more dramatic than an episode of Real Housewives when Naomi Osaka, a 20-year-old tennis player representing Japan, upset tennis legend Serena Williams for the Grand Slam title.
ICYMI, here’s what happened: Osaka took the court against Williams to play for her very first Grand Slam title and won the first set against Williams 6-2. Then things got intense—accusations of an unfair call against Williams, a smashed racket, more beef with the umpire, and an entire game struck from Serena’s match record, all of which wrapped up with calls of sexism on the part of U.S. Open officials and a major upset loss for Williams. (If you’re interested in a full recap of the controversy on the court and what’s transpired since, you can find one here.)
The whole episode was definitely dramatic (in the aftermath, Williams is speaking out about women’s rights in sports and fighting for better treatment of female players). But with all of the commotion, it’s left a shadow over Osaka’s amazing game, her prowess as a seriously skilled athlete, and her poise throughout the debacle.
While all of this was going on, Osaka (who P.S. was beating Williams before all the drama even started) played a near flawless game, staying focused to deliver power serve after power serve.
This should have been one of the happiest moments of Osaka’s career—a win the athlete has been training for for almost her entire life since she started playing tennis when she was 3. But instead, she held back tears as best she could while accepting her well-earned trophy. After all the drama with Williams and the ump, the crowd was actually booing as Osaka took the podium. (Serena eventually had to tell her fans to get it together and be supportive of Osaka’s win.)
So, who is Naomi Osaka? Here’s what you should know about this 20-year-old U.S. Open tennis star that’s carving her rightful place among the professional tennis elite.
1. She has one of the most powerful serves on record. Despite being only 20, Osaka is up there with the greats when it comes to her game. She has one of the fastest serves on record—an eye-popping 125 miles per hour. That’s only slightly slower than Serena’s fastest serve, which was recorded at 128 miles per hour. (Currently, Williams has the fifth fastest serve ever recorded and Osaka holds the ninth spot.)
2. She trains with her tennis-pro sister. Osaka’s older sister Mari is also a tennis powerhouse—in fact, they’re doubles partners. Hmm, sounds familiar…
3. Serena Williams is her role model. Like pretty much any little girl with a racket, Osaka idolized Williams growing up (Serena is 16 years her senior)—she even wrote a report about her hero in the third grade. Even though they’re competitors now, Naomi says she still looks up to Serena—in fact, her game mantra is reportedly, “What would Serena do?”
4. This isn’t the first time she’s played her hero. Willams and Osaka faced off earlier this year (right after Williams came back from maternity leave). But playing her at the U.S. Open was a dream-come-true for the 20-year-old athlete. “When I was a little kid I always dreamed I would play Serena in a Grand Slam final,” she told the BBC.
5. She’s one of the 10 best women’s tennis players in the world right now. In fact, she’s even seeded higher than Williams. After her huge win, Osaka is ranked number seven by the Women’s Tennis Association. (Williams is currently ranked number 16, but you’ll remember that seeding was also shrouded in controversy.)
6. This is her second major title. Earlier this year, Osaka took home the trophy at the Indian Wells tournament—only six months before winning the U.S. Open.
7. She’s a gracious winner. While she was visibly emotional during the trophy ceremony as boos from the U.S. Open crowd still roared, Osaka still remained affable. “I felt a little bit sad because I wasn’t really sure if they were booing at me or if it wasn’t the outcome that they wanted,” Osaka said on Today after the match. “I also could sympathize because I’ve been a fan of Serena my whole life. I know the ending wasn’t how people wanted it to be—in my dreams, I [would have] won in a very tough competitive match.”
8. Her win at the U.S. Open was historic. The thing is, Osaka did win in a very tough competitive match. Not to mention the fact that her win was historic—she was the first Japanese citizen to win a Grand Slam singles title.
We have a feeling you’re going to be hearing Naomi Osaka’s name a lot more. Here’s to hoping the conversation moves away from this U.S. Open debate and allows this true sportswoman to shine on her merits.