Tennis

Serena Williams Isn’t the Biggest Hurdle Naomi Osaka Must Overcome

Naomi Osaka roared onto the tennis scene in 2018 by winning the women’s singles championship at the U.S. Open against Serena Williams. It helped her reach No. 5 in the season-ending world rankings.

That ranking announced to the world that Osaka, 21 years old at the time, was here to stay. And it had to be her ranking doing the talking for her because there’s no way she would do it herself; Osaka’s big foe on the court may be Serena Williams, but her toughest obstacle of all is her shyness.

Tennis fans are waiting for Naomi Osaka vs. Serena Williams

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One would hardly know that the top three women’s tennis players in the world at the moment are Ashleigh Barty of Australia, Simona Halep of Romania, and Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic. That’s because many fans tracking the U.S. Open have been paying closer attention to the No. 8 and 9 seeds – Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, respectively.

Williams and Osaka entered the Sept. 10 semifinals one win away from reaching the finals. Osaka was to play American Jennifer Brady, ranked 41st, and Williams was to meet No. 27 Victoria Azarenka.

Williams is seeking her 24th career Gland Slam singles championship, which would tie the record set by Margaret Court. Doing so against Osaka would erase the memory of a controversial loss at the 2018 U.S. Open, a match that many at the time presumed would be that coveted 24th title.

That 2018 match at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center ended with Osaka winning, 6-2, 6-4. Two games into the second set, chair umpire Carlos Ramos assessed a code violation on Williams after coach Patrick Mouratoglou was seen giving her hand signals in violation of the rules. Williams picked up a second violation for racket abuse, this time costing her a point. Williams then went into an angry rant aimed at Ramos, who docked her a game.

Ramos’ decision was correct under the rules governing abuse of officials, but it wasn’t popular with fans who expected to see a history-making win. Many spectators booed during the awards presentation, and both players were reduced to tears at times.

Naomi Osama was too shy then and now to speak up

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Naomi Osaka added a second Grand Slam championship by winning at the Australian Open in 2019. One might think that winning two major championships against the sport’s cream of the crop would leave Osaka, who climbed to No. 1 at one point last season, oozing confidence.

In fact, she does play her powerful baseline game with confidence. However, she admits that she continues to be amazingly shy at the age of 22.

“For me, I have a lot of regrets before I go to sleep, and most of the regret is that I don’t speak out about what I’m thinking,” she told CNN this summer.

Osaka went so far to say that her inability to assert herself has occasionally led to decisions being taken out of her hands.

“There’s a lot of times where I see myself in situations where I could have put my input in, but instead I’ve held my tongue and things kept moving in a way that I didn’t really enjoy.”

Naomi Osaka

One incident sums up exactly how shy the emerging star is

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It’s indisputable that Naomi Osaka is a star in her own right. Her success on the tennis court has resulted in her setting the record for one-year earnings by a female athlete last year, according to Forbes.

Still, she feels completely out of her element around other celebrities. An episode last year epitomizes her shyness. Osaka was vacationing in the Caribbean islands when she was introduced to Jay-Z and Beyoncé, two of her favorite musical artists.

“He started talking to me, but I got really nervous and started giving one-word replies so he suddenly said, ‘Are you shy?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’ And the convo came to a screeching halt.”

Naomi Osaka

Osaka swears she won’t make the same mistake twice.

“I want to take the chance to tell people I appreciate them while I can,” she told CNN. “I would like to thank Jay-Z and Beyoncé for making music that motivates me, because there was a period in my life where I just watched Beyoncé performances to get motivated.”