Australian Open: Softly spoken Osaka now a ruthless machine

By Sports Desk February 20, 2021

"I know that everyone was cheering for [Serena Williams] and I'm sorry it had to end like this. I want to say thank you for watching the match."

Naomi Osaka's first grand slam title was memorable for all the wrong reasons - the Japanese left in tears after defeating her idol Serena Williams in the 2018 US Open final.

Williams was penalised for receiving coaching, slamming her racquet and then arguing with the chair umpire, which cost the 23-time slam champion a game in the second set.

The mood on Arthur Ashe Stadium turned bitter as fans booed during the trophy ceremony.

"I just felt like everyone was sort of unhappy up there," Osaka told the 'Today' show a day after the final. "I know that it wasn't really – the ending wasn't how people wanted it to be. I know that in my dreams I won in a very tough, competitive match. I don't know. I just felt very emotional. I felt like I had to apologise.

"I felt a little bit sad, because I wasn't really sure if they were booing at me or if it wasn't the outcome that they wanted. I also could sympathise, because I've been a fan of Serena my whole life, and I knew how badly the crowd wanted her to win."

Almost three years on and three further slam titles later, that softly-spoken Osaka is now a ruthless machine, just ask Williams.

En route to a fourth slam crown and second Australian Open trophy on Saturday, Osaka overpowered the 23-time major champion in the semi-finals, stopping her ongoing record-equalling quest flat in its tracks.

The queen of women's tennis for so long, Williams could not find a way to beat Osaka.

The here and now, Osaka continues to be Williams' kryptonite in the American superstar's bid match Margaret Court. It could explain why Serena was left in tears and cut short her post-match news conference.

There appears to be no way past Osaka.

Usually timid away from the action, Osaka is ferocious on court but just as calm - her triumphant 2021 Australian Open campaign further proof of that, having saved a pair of match points in the last 16 before topping Jennifer Brady on Rod Laver Arena, where she became the first woman since Monica Seles in the early 1990s to emerge victorious from the first four grand slam finals of her career. 

Lets not forget her anti-racism statements during the last year's US Open. The 23-year-old regularly wore masks onto court to protest against racial injustice in the United States. Osaka's off-court impact is just as powerful across the globe.

As the sun begins to fade on the career of an all-time great, Osaka has the world at her feet in an exciting new era for women's tennis.

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  • Defending champion Cameron Norrie cruises into Rio Open quarter-finals Defending champion Cameron Norrie cruises into Rio Open quarter-finals

    Cameron Norrie remains on course to defend his Rio Open title after easing into the quarter-finals.

    The British number one won last year’s tournament in Brazil and his path to repeating his glory opened up earlier in the week when top seed Carlos Alcaraz withdrew because of injury.

    And he made light work of Chilean Tomas Barrios Vera on the clay, dropping just two games in a 6-1 6-1 victory.

    Barrios Vera, ranked 120 in the world, was no match for the Norrie, who overcame an early exchange of breaks to reel off four successive games and win the first set.

    Another run of four games on the spin was enough to get the job done with little fuss to set up a quarter-final meeting with Thiago Seyboth Wild.

    “I really played well and was accurate, I hit the lines and was able to control the games,” Norrie said on Sky Sports.

    “I enjoyed it, last night waiting around, it rained a lot and I had to come out and reset and I was able to do that so I was really pleased.

    “I am going to keep focusing on myself and my level and I want to make sure I take care of my matches like that.

    “It’s tough, it’s humid, there’s been a lot of rain and the clay is heavy. It’s not easy out here but I feel like I can play well when the matches go long.”

  • Krajicek hopes Alcaraz does not simply try to emulate Nadal Krajicek hopes Alcaraz does not simply try to emulate Nadal

    Richard Krajicek believes it will hurt Carlos Alcaraz's career if he compares himself too much to Rafael Nadal.

    Alcaraz is being hailed as Spanish tennis' next big hope with Nadal nearing the end of a hugely decorated career, one that has seen him win 22 grand slam titles, two behind Novak Djokovic at the top of the all-time list.

    Alcaraz himself has claimed two grand slams at the age of 20, winning the US Open in 2022 before following it up by claiming Wimbledon glory the following year.

    Despite the comparisons, Krajicek hopes Alcaraz doesn't think too much about comparing himself with his countryman Nadal.

    "If he starts to think about it or live up to it or try to beat it, then it will hinder his career, I think, a little bit," said Krajicek, speaking to Stats Perform at the Rotterdam Open. "But no, his name is Carlos Alcaraz. He said it himself. And he's not a new Nadal.

    "Nadal is a legend. And he's going to do what he has to do. And I think by winning two grand slams, being number one, I don't think he [Alcaraz] feels any pressure or like, I have to do this or this.

    "He's proved so much already. I don't think he has too much to prove. And he's just playing for the love of the game. He's going to win many more grand slams and be number one for many weeks also."

    Krajicek thinks Alcaraz's all-round game has the potential to take him to the top, if he hasn't reached it already.

    "I like everything about his game," Krajicek added. "I mean he's physically good, he's fast, I love his mentality on the court."

    "Also like Rafa, [he is] a very humble person and he can do it all. He can play serve and volley, he plays from the base, he's got a big forehand, he's got a very good touch on the drop shot, he can volley."

    Krajicek pointed to Alcaraz's affection for the sport of tennis as a particularly infectious part of his game.

    "He really loves the game," Krajicek continued. 

    "I think when he played the US Open, there was a huge point in the final and it was a really important point. And they were playing for number one in the world.

    "It was one set all, and Alcaraz loses the point, but the point was unbelievable. And Alcaraz smiles to his box like, 'Wow, I just played a great point, and I love this game'.

    "So for me, then I became a fan. I'm like, 'Wow, you really love this game'. That's so great to see."

  • Krajicek: It is a 'matter of time' until Alcaraz is undisputed number one Krajicek: It is a 'matter of time' until Alcaraz is undisputed number one

    It is only a "matter of time" until Carlos Alcaraz is the number one tennis player in the world, according to Richard Krajicek.

    At the age of 20, Alcaraz has already won Wimbledon and the US Open, becoming world number one in September 2022.

    He was defeated in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open to kick off this year's grand slams, though, failing to win any of the three tournaments in which he has played in 2024.

    However, former world number four Krajicek believes Alcaraz is on his way to becoming the best, despite dropping to number two in the world rankings.

    "His potential is very high," Krajicek told Stats Perform. "I think he's the future number one.

    "I'm not saying anything special because he's beaten everybody. He beat Djokovic three times out of the last four times they played. He beat Medvedev from being two sets to love down, which shows how mentally and physically strong he is.

    "So for me, it's a matter of time until he becomes number one. I think he can play on all surfaces, maybe clay is his worst surface but all the other surfaces you would say he's a title contender."

    With the 'Big Three' of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic already retired or nearing the end of their storied careers, there's been much discussion over who will fill their boots.

    Alcaraz has already proved his abilities, while 22-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner claimed Australian Open glory to kick off this year having reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon in 2023.

    Krajicek feels those two will lead the way for the next era of men's tennis, saying: "It's difficult to say who the next generation will be, but I think Alcaraz and Sinner will have a good rivalry. They already have played unbelievable matches.

    "Of course, Alcaraz has already been number one, won two Grand Slams. Sinner is now slowly coming also to that level. He is number four, maybe number three after this week."

    However, Krajicek has reservations over whether the likes of Alcaraz and Sinner can reach the legendary status of the 'Big Three'.

    "To really have the same kind of rivalry, I don't know if that's possible," Krajicek added. "I mean, together, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic won 66 Grand Slams. That's incredible. In every Grand Slam, they were in the final or winning. It's just amazing.

    "I don't know if it's possible to have two players or three players that basically win every Grand Slam they play. But I believe those two are going to be the two biggest names for the next couple years."

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