Japan hails emergence of 'new tennis queen'

Japan's Naomi Osaka became the first Japanese tennis player to win the Australian Open and the first Asian to claim the singles world No. 1 ranking.
Japan's Naomi Osaka became the first Japanese tennis player to win the Australian Open and the first Asian to claim the singles world No. 1 ranking.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO • Japan rejoiced yesterday as Naomi Osaka clinched her second consecutive Grand Slam title and reached world No. 1, following her 7-6 (7-2), 5-7, 6-4 victory over Petra Kvitova in the women's singles final of the Australian Open.

She became the first Japanese tennis player to win the Australian Open and the first Asian to claim the singles world No. 1 ranking.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led the tributes following her victory in Melbourne.

"The thrill of a hard-fought victory! Congratulations on winning the Australian Open, Naomi Osaka," Abe wrote on his official Twitter page. "I am very proud of the emergence of a new queen. I look forward to your continued accomplishments."

Her compatriot Kei Nishikori, who had to withdraw during his Australian Open quarter-final with Novak Djokovic through injury, also took to Twitter, congratulating Osaka with a series of thumbs-up, trophy and Japanese flag emojis.

Martina Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam singles champion, lauded "superstar" Osaka for her incredible rise to the top of her game.

She tweeted: "Well, after winning the #usopen2018 Naomi Osaka became a star. And now, after winning the #australianopen and becoming world #1, she is a superstar! Congratulations Champ. And @Petra_Kvitova - you are the champion of life!!!"

Local television channels showed people in Tokyo gathering to snatch a copy of a special edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper detailing Osaka's victory.

 

In the ski resort of Hakuba, which hosted events during the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998, a small group of tennis fans celebrated as they watched the final at a local sports bar.

"We are so happy for her as a Japanese," said Keiko Kobayashi. "She is one of us and she represents us so well on the world stage."

Osaka, whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese, has helped to break new ground in Japan, challenging the country's traditional self-image as a racially homogeneous country.

"My daughter is also half-Japanese," said Hitoshi Watanabe, as he bought a celebratory round of drinks at the Hakuba bar.

"Hopefully, this gives her the motivation to do something the same. Anything she wants, she can now do."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 27, 2019, with the headline 'Japan hails emergence of 'new tennis queen''. Print Edition | Subscribe