Steps to stardom: Naomi Osaka’s ascension to superstar status

  • Reem Abulleil

When Naomi Osaka claimed a three-set victory for a second Grand Slam title at Australian Open 2019, it was a breathtaking display of character, composure and grit in the face of adversity. Earlier, the tearful 21-year-old surrendered three championship points when she dropped the second set to powerful Petra Kvitova.

Also a winner over Serena Williams to seize the 2018 US Open title, Osaka subsequently became Asia’s first-ever world No.1 singles player. And while she shared many traits with other champions, the Japanese favourite also showcased a unique – and hugely popular – character.

Rocketing to superstardom, Osaka’s endorsement portfolio and social media following quickly grew, and was feted by celebrities including TV host Ellen DeGeneres and supermodel Naomi Campbell. But the fast-rising star was careful to retain perspective. “My next goal is to win the next tournament I play,” she commented.

While a bright future clearly beckons for the 22-year-old, Osaka has already achieved many history-making milestones. Here’s how that history has so far unfolded.

1997     Born in Osaka, Japan.

2000     Her family – mother Tamaki Osaka, father Leonard Francois and sister Mari – move to New York, USA. Begins playing tennis as a three-year-old with Mari, who is 18 months older.

2006     Family relocates to Florida to focus on tennis development.

2011     Plays her first pro events at ITF level.

2013     Turns professional as a 15-year-old.

2014     Makes WTA main draw debut at Stanford as a qualifier; saves a match point to upset former US Open champion Sam Stosur.

2016     Qualifies for Australian Open to make Grand Slam debut; reaches third round.

2016     Reaches a first WTA final in Tokyo, stunning No.12 Dominika Cibulkova and No.20 Elina Svitolina along the way. Named WTA Newcomer of the Year.

2017     Claims her first top-10 win over world No.6 and defending champion Angelique Kerber at the US Open.

2018     Wins a first WTA title at Indian Wells, upsetting current and former No.1s Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova. Wins first meeting with childhood idol Serena Williams in Miami’s first round.  

2018     Defeats Serena Williams again to claim her breakthrough Grand Slam title at the US Open.

2019     Lifts her second Grand Slam trophy at the Australian Open. Also becomes the first Asian player, male or female, to top the singles rankings.

2019     Wins fourth career title in birth city of Osaka, followed by fifth in Beijing. Finishes season at world No.3 – her highest year-end ranking.

For the full feature on Naomi Osaka, get your copy of the Australian Open 2020 Official Program – available at Melbourne Park or in Australian newsagents. In a first for any Grand Slam, fans can choose from one of six covers – featuring either defending champions Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic, world No.1s Ash Barty and Rafael Nadal, plus history-making Serena Williams and Roger Federer.