TOKYO • Japan celebrated Naomi Osaka's historic victory over Serena Williams in the US Open final on Saturday, with fans putting her stunning success down to a steely focus and humble attitude as much as her powerful performance at Flushing Meadows.
Osaka, who became the first Japanese player to clinch a Grand Slam singles title, was a picture of calm amid her opponent's meltdown that cast a pall over the final and Japanese supporters praised the 20-year-old's serene demeanour.
"Osaka played so well that Serena wasn't able to play her tennis and she (Williams) got upset," said Mitsuko Sakai, a 63-year-old amateur tennis player who woke early yesterday morning to catch the showdown on TV. "She remained so calm throughout the match despite the brouhaha. I was very impressed by her mental strength."
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was similarly impressed and congratulated Osaka on Twitter, thanking her for "giving Japan a boost of inspiration at this time of hardship" - a likely reference to the earthquake that hit Hokkaido last Thursday, killing at least 21 people.
According to Japan Times, Osaka's 73-year-old grandfather Tetsuo told reporters at his home in Nemuro, Hokkaido, that Osaka had called after the match to share her joy.
Kei Nishikori, who lost in the men's semi-finals to Novak Djokovic and was the runner-up in 2014, posted a video of Osaka lifting her trophy on his Twitter page along with the hashtag #proud and a Japanese flag emoji.
The Japanese public have also been charmed by Osaka's off-court humility and genuineness as much as her on-court ferocity.
Watching from Tokyo, tennis fan Kiyoshi Ogawa, 60, praised the humbleness shown by Osaka during her post-victory speech despite the biggest win of her career.
Tennis is nowhere near as popular as baseball, football or sumo in Japan, with the match not shown on any major television channel.
The daughter of a Haitian father and Japanese mother, Osaka is also helping break new ground as her bi-racial identity challenges the country's self-image as a racially homogeneous society.
"If athletes... really make it clear they are representing Japan, then the public will support them," said Hirotaka Matsuoka, a professor of sports marketing at Waseda University.