Noami Osaka won her second US Open title after defeating her Belorussian opponent Victoria Azarenka in a 3-set women’s singles final played at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in the USTA Billie Jean National Tennis Centre at Flushing Meadows, New York.
The number four seeded Japanese player’s second US Open title was also her third grand slam title in a career that is glittering with notable achievements and promises to scale loftier heights.
It was very much a moment of reckoning for Osaka’s motherland Japan which once again served a telling reminder to the rest of the world that amidst the age-old dominance of Americans and Europeans at winning Grand Slams, Asians hold their own fort and have the pedigree to win at the biggest stage of them all – the grand slams.
For decades, American and European players have ruled the roost at the very pinnacle of tennis courtesy their stranglehold over Grand Slam titles both in men’s and women’s singles.
The Grand Slam roll of honour has legends of the sport like Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, William Sisters, Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic notable among others..enjoying extended spells of dominance. The Asian players for long have often been potential challengers to their much more dominant and American and counterparts.
Although it is a notable fact that success for Asian players in grand slams has come more on the doubles and mixed doubles front with Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Sania Mirza, Rohan Bopanna (all India), Peng Shui, Zheng Jie, Yan Zi, Shuai (China) and Kazuko Sawamatsu, Ai Sugiyama, Rika Hiraki (Japan) , there have been rare moments of glory for Asian in the singles with China’s Li Na winning women’s singles title at the French Open (2011) and Australian Open (2014) and now Osaka becoming the first Asian player to have won three singles grand slam titles after her win at the US Open. However, one Asian nation which has continued to challenge the supremacy of the Europeans and Americans in the grand slam tennis has been Japan.
Naomi Osaka, the 2020 US Open women’s singles champion and now 3-time Grand Slam winner is a torchbearer of Japan’s glorious tennis legacy which has seen the East Asian nation producing world-class tennis players who challenged the big guns and modern-day greats on the world stage during their own era.
While Japan’s leading singles player Kei Nishikori spearheads Asia’s challenge on the men’s tour and has been a constant threat to the ‘Big 3’ and top singles players like Juan Martin Del Potro, Stanislas Wawrinka, David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Marin Cilic, with his stellar exploits on the ATP World Tour and his notable final appearance at the 2014 US Open; Osaka has been the flag bearer for Japan on the WTA tour engaging with enduring battles with Serena Williams, Karolina Pliskova, Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep, Kiki Bertens among others at the very top in women’s tennis over the last five odd seasons.
Osaka’s staggering ascendancy to the very top in world tennis is not a one-off success story from Japan as there has been a consistent supply of world-class players from the Island nation in Kimiko Date and Ai Sugiyama, both of whom were top 10 players and tasted success at the grand slam level. Over the years, the Japanese also had Rika Hiraki, Ayumi Morita, Akiko Morigami, and Aiko Nakamura who made an impact on the WTA tour but could not go the distance to become top-notch players in a highly competitive field.Kimiko Date was consistently ranked among the top 10 in the 90s and challenged the likes of Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Gabriela Sabatini, and Jana Novotna, during their peaks of prowess at the slams. Date who attained a career-high world ranking of No.4 made it to the semifinals of the Australian Open (1994), French Open (1995), and Wimbledon (1996) respectively. In a career spanning over two decades which saw her winning 8 singles and 6 doubles WTA titles.
Au Sugiyama was a leading doubles player who won three women’s doubles grand slam titles and racked up 6 WTA Singles and 28 Doubles titles during the late 90s and 2000s. Sugiyama won the women’s doubles titles in 2000 US Open, 2003 French Open, and 2003 Wimbledon, besides reaching the finals of the women’s doubles at the Australian Open in 2009.
It won’t be wrong in saying that Naomi Osaka has taken over as the ‘Queen of Asian Tennis’ from her Chinese tennis icon Li Na who revolutionized tennis in the Asian continent by becoming the first Asian to win a grand slam singles title at the 2011 French Open.
Japan along with the Chinese, South Koreans, and Indians are leading the Asian charge in world tennis boasting of some quality players in both the men’s and women’s singles section. While Kei Nishikori has good company in the form of Yūichi Sugita, Yoshihito Nishioka, Go Soeda, and Tatsuma Ito; Osaka who is definitely a cut above the rest of her fellow Japanese players serves as a role model for Nao Hibino, Misaki Doi, and Kurumi Nara, all of whom have won titles on the world tour and been ranked inside the top 50.
Naomi Osaka has made giant strides in the last five years after being named the WTA Newcomer of the year in 2016 and breaking into the top 5 of the WTA rankings. At just 22, with 3 Grand Slam titles in her kitty, it has to be seen how long can the Japanese tennis superstar holds her own at the very top at a time women’s tennis does not have dominant world number one.