Aussie Open Fallout: Naomi Osaka is the New Face of Women’s Tennis

In winning the 2021 Australian Open, Naomi Osaka has cemented herself as tennis’ next superstar.

By Stone Lexington

Updated: Feb. 20, 2021 • 6:10 AM ET

The future of women’s tennis is now, and her name is Naomi Osaka.

With her straight sets victory (6-4, 6-3) over Jennifer Brady in the women’s final of the Australian Open on Saturday, Osaka claimed her fourth Grand Slam title, already putting her in elite company at just 23 years old. With her fourth major, she sits only one behind notable names like Maria Sharapova (5) and Martina Hingis (5), and three behind the stately Venus Williams (7). And, unfortunately for the other competitors on the WTA tour, Osaka seems like she’s still just getting started.

Her run to the Aussie Open title included a straight sets semi-final win (6-3, 6-4) over Serena Williams, who has been the standard in women’s tennis since her U.S. Open victory in 1999 at just 17 years old. With that victory over world No. 1 Martina Hingis in the ’99 Open final, Williams became the first African American woman to win a Grand Slam tournament in the Open Era, showcasing what was to come over the next two decades. But when Osaka slew Williams in straight sets in Australia this week, it felt like the official passing of the torch.

There are parallels between Williams and Osaka. Similarly to Williams, Osaka made history with her first major victory at the 2018 U.S. Open, ironically against Williams in the final. During that demolition (6-2, 6-4), Osaka became the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles title. And obviously, it wouldn’t be her last.

Since that first major victory, Osaka went on to win the 2019 Australian Open and 2020 U.S. Open before claiming her fourth Grand Slam on Saturday. Her major resume is only missing a French Open title and perhaps tennis’ ultimate prize, a Wimbledon championship.

At both Roland Garros and the All England Club, Osaka’s best finishes have been exits in the Round of 32. Whether it’s on the clay courts in Paris or the grass surfaces in London, Osaka hasn’t found a way to advance to the later rounds. Undoubtedly, though, she is the current queen of the hardcourts, winning two out of the last three Australian and U.S. Opens.

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To become the standard in tennis, though, Osaka will have to win at least one French Open and Wimbledon title. The question is, who will be her biggest competition for the foreseeable future? Could it be 24-year-old Ashleigh Barty, who has one major (2019 French Open) in her bag? How about 22-year-old Sofia Kenin, who claimed last year’s Australian Open to win her first Grand Slam?

What about Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, who is just 20 years old and won her first major at the 2019 U.S. Open; or Polish sensation and 19-year-old Iga Swiatek, who dominated the 2020 French Open, never losing a set? Could 16-year-old Coco Gauff rise high enough to challenge Osaka in finals on a regular basis?

Regardless, with Williams seemingly at the end of her unimaginable career, the future of women’s tennis seems bright, and Osaka is at the top of the mountain.

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