Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Image courtesy of the Financial Times.
Note: this article was originally published as part of our "Youths of the Decade" roundup. Click here to read the article in full.
The 22-year-old Japanese tennis player has, over the past decade, become one of the biggest figures in world tennis. After rising to prominence at age 16 when she beat World No. 19 Samathan Stosur in her professional female tennis debut, she went on to enter the top 50 of the WTA rankings in 2016 after winning against World No. 6 Simona Halep in the French Open and making it to the finals of the Pan Pacific Open, held in her home country of Japan.
In 2017 she didn’t replicate the same successes. Over the last two years, however, Osaka started to really elevate her career to become one of the biggest figures in world tennis after winning her first WTA title at the Indian Wells Open in March 2018, only dropping a single set, beating world no.1 Simona Halep and another world top 5 opponent. Osaka then beat her idol, tennis icon Serena Williams, to win the US Open, rising to world no. 4. In 2019, she started the year as she ended it, winning the Australian Open in back-to-back Grand Slam singles victories, becoming No.1 in the world. She was the first Japanese, and Asian, player to do so in the history of the sport.
Osaka boasts a powerful serve, hitting 200km/h. She was coached by her father initially, who said he followed the “blueprint” of the Williams sisters’ father, as she grew up in the United States.
As well as being one of the greatest tennis players in the sport, Osaka also has the potential to make strides against racism and discrimination in Japan, where discrimination and prejudice against half-Japanese people like herself is widespread. It has directly affected her, with her Japanese grandparents initially refusing to accept her parent’s marriage to Haitian Leonard Francois. She has faced racism from even mainstream news outlets, with supposed progressive English-news outlet The Japan Times and US news outlets questioning her “Japanese-ness”. As a prominent athlete, Osaka can become a role model and actively fight and end prejudices that afflict people like herself in Japan.