She is just 18 years old and already has generated shock and awe on the Women’s Tennis Association world tour with a thundering serve here, a lightning forehand there.
If you have not heard of Naomi Osaka, you soon will, regardless of whether you are an ardent tennis fan or just a casual follower of the sport.
The daughter of a Japanese mother and Haitian father, Osaka surely has vanquished opponents and potential rivals taking notice, including world No. 1 Serena Williams.
“I have seen her play,” Serena told reporters covering the Australian Open in January. “She is a really good, talented player. Very dangerous.”
In compiling a 21-11 record so far in 2016, Osaka has reached the third round of the season’s first two Grand Slam tournaments — the Australian and French opens — as well as the Miami Open, a WTA premier event.
The likeable teenager has taken out some top players along the way, including No. 18 Elina Svitolina at the Australian and top 20 player Sara Errani in Miami.
Osaka rapidly has become a fan favorite. She was voted by tennis watchers worldwide to participate last fall in the Rising Stars Invitational Challenge, an event highlighting the next generation at the WTA end-0f-season championships in Singapore. Osaka defeated top-30 player Caroline Garcia to win the tournament.
At the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford two years ago, Osaka knocked out former No. 1 and U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur in the first round. It was her first main-draw WTA tournament, and she wowed spectators with a gasp-inducing 100-mph forehand.
And at the recently-completed French Open, Osaka was the only player to equal Serena Williams’ top service speed of 121.8 mph. Not even Venus Williams, who has the second fastest WTA serve ever at 129 mph, nor the powerful Madison Keys could match that.
Osaka already has achieved her goal of cracking the top 100 in the WTA rankings — she currently is No. 93 — and could reach her year-end aspiration of being in the top 50. She has won $264,332 in prize money this year, more than twice her total earnings since turning pro.
Born in Japan, Osaka moved to the United States when she was 3. She lives and trains in Florida under the tutelage of her dad. She also has an older sister, Mari, who plays.
I have not seen much of Osaka on court, but I am impressed by what I have seen. She has a powerful 5’11” frame and may be still growing. Two things stand out about her on-court demeanor: emotionless composure and spunk. She seems to know she has lethal weapons and is not afraid to unleash them.
With engaging youthful candor and awkwardness, Osaka has been a hit with reporters. She describes herself as a “child of the Internet,” and names Serena Williams as her idol, not surprisingly.
And, like Serena, she hopes to one day be perched on the top rung of women’s tennis.
“I want to play all the Grand Slams and get as far as I can,” Osaka told wtatennis.com after stunning Stosur two years ago. “I know it sounds crazy, but I hope I can get to the finals.”
For this hard-hitting phenom, reaching the finals of a Grand Slam one day is not farfetched at all.