Sep/18

7

US Open Magic: The New Darling Of Tennis Naomi Osaka

NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ
By Scoop Malinowski

First it was her outstanding play. Naomi Osaka, the enigmatic Japanese, Haitian, American showcased her best tennis to defy a surging Madison Keys 62 64. Keys threw everything, absolutely everything at young, impregnable Osaka who bravely withstood the onslaughts with a stunning display of unbeatable tennis.

Osaka kept bending but refused to break, saving all 13 break points. She battled back against the Keys firepower and summoned up some big serves to get out of trouble. All the while, Osaka had the presence and demeanor of a player who was not going to lose. As if it’s her destiny to win her first major in the same state she played a lot of her junior tennis.

Keys played superbly, take nothing from her, but she ran into a wunderkind. Osaka was simply an unstoppable force last night.

But Osaka was saving the very best for last. Then came one of the most unforgettable moments in US Open history. Tom Rinaldi asked Osaka how she managed to escape so many perilous moments in the second set and he got an answer that without a doubt was one of the most electrifying moments of his broadcasting career.

“This is gonna sound really bad…(she paused, seemingly tentative to drop her verbal nuclear bomb) … but I was just thinking: I really want to play Serena,” Osaka said with a sheepish or impervious smile, it was hard to read exactly. One gets the sense the 20-year old is so honest and candid she just doesn’t have it in her to hide the truth. Her confidence is not offensive at all, there is an element of charming innocence.

The Ashe Stadium crowd and the millions of viewers worldwide were all as dazzled and awed just like Rinaldi, who could barely contain his glee.

Next Rinaldi seized the moment and asked Osaka if she had a message for Serena: “I love you,” she said. Then added “I love everyone.” It was the kind of grand, unscripted theater we don’t witness often in the contrived, sterile, PC atmosphere of Ashe.

Think about what just happened. Naomi Osaka just called out the all time most fearsome dragon in women’s tennis history. No cliches, no sugar coating, just a flat out, straight to the point: I WANT YOU SERENA. You can be sure the entire tennis world will be talking about this for days and weeks to come.

Last night a new and original tennis sensation was born. In a vast sea of players who all defer to or worship Serena, now finally we have a new kid on the block who has the firepower, the courage and the fearlessness to tell the world she wants to slay the ultimate dragon of all dragons, Serena Williams.

New Yorkers love that kind of chutzpah. They love boldness. Serena has never experienced anything like this. A young fearless tornado of a player is hunting her with bad intentions. It’s a strange and uncertain mental dynamic for the Queen Bee of the WTA. She has to kill the little darling of the sports world, the sweet, shy, soft spoken, humble, adorable princess with the Mike Tyson knockout power.

Serena can’t bully or intimidate Osaka and if she dares to try she will be swiftly rebuked. No, Serena has a nightmare on her hands. She has to grab her guns and go shoot down Bambi.

Can she do it? Can Serena summon her killer mentality again? How will the crowd respond? Will the crowd embrace Osaka to the point that they gang up on the old ogre who has, to more than a few tennis observers, lingered on far too long in the game. Will the Ashe crowd openly reject Serena and invest all it’s emotional stock into Naomi Osaka who suddenly appears to be the perfect, most worthy heir apparent to Serena’s fading supremacy.

Oh goodness, there are so many dynamics and angles involved in this fascinating US Open final. You get the sense something very special will happen and last night’s magic created by Osaka was only a mere prelude.

————–

Osaka’s post match quote on playing the 36 year old Williams, who she beat in Miami this year 63 62:

“I mean, like, for starters, when you just come back and then you make the finals of two slams, I think that’s really amazing. I’m sure that everyone knows that Serena’s really good, of course… But I don’t know. I really feel like I don’t want to overthink this match, so I’m not going to think that she’s so much better than she was in Miami. I’m just going to go out there and play. Since I already know she’s a good player, I don’t want to be surprised if she plays better or not.”

6 comments

  • catherine · September 7, 2018 at 9:09 am

    Scoop – I hate to be a wet blanket but Naomi’s been around for a while. Didn’t she win Indian Wells ? And didn’t Sascha choose her to coach because he could see the potential ? Yes and yes.

    You make me laugh. Poor Bambi.

    My feeling is, Serena will win fairly easily because although she’s almost pensionable age she has tons of experience and Osaka will face the kind of tennis she’s never seen before across the net.

    And Naomi enigmatic ? Seems to me she’s pretty straightforward – a young talented player who’s about to go through a learning process at the hands of the greatest in the game.

    Check back tomorrow. Oh and by the way Naomi’s not American or Haitian. Japanese do not allow dual nationality to anyone over 20 so she’s Japanese. Unless she’s made a last minute change which I don’t believe she has.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 7, 2018 at 9:14 am

    Catherine, Naomi has uncanny ability to rise to the occasion. She won IW and beat Serena in Miami in their only meeting. So Serena does not know how to beat her. It’s hard for me to see her cracking against Serena, she has reason to be very confident and she is showing impressive confidence. Serena has all the pressure and the crowd will be for Bambi. This is such a strange situation for Serena, I’m sure she would far more prefer to play Keys in the final. Yes, Osaka has been around a while, but she’s been floating in that second or third tier. Now she has the chance to grab the throne and crown from the queen. It looks like she is ready for her life to change.

  • catherine · September 7, 2018 at 9:27 am

    Well, you may be right. Certainly I’m sure Serena would rather have played Keys.

    But I’d also guess losing at W’don clicked something in her mind: ‘I’m not going like this’. And we have a different Serena from Miami.

    (It’d be strange if winning Wimbledon has sent Angie into another tailspin and propelled Serena in the opposite direction.)

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 7, 2018 at 10:03 am

    There is also the emotional baggage factor of Sascha Bajin. Rumors swirl he was the boyfriend of Serena or she wanted him to be, she had him living in a house next to her’s as Chrissie revealed last night. But they split and now Bajin is the coach of Osaka. Bajin knows Serena as well as anyone in tennis and his input could help Osaka even more.

  • catherine · September 7, 2018 at 10:18 am

    I’m not getting into gossip but that’s not the feeling I have about Sascha. He certainly wasn’t Serena’s boyfriend, real or putative, and they split mainly because Sascha wanted more of a coaching job and he knew he wasn’t going to get one with Patrick around. All this was years ago anyway.

    Chris seems very free with the gossip – last time it was Julia Georges having her physio her boyfriend (not the best idea in the world). I think Chris should stay off players’ personal lives. She certainly wouldn’t have appreciated that stuff in her own playing days.

  • Hartt · September 8, 2018 at 11:59 am

    I don’t usually get very involved with tennis gossip, but the idea of Sascha having been Serena’s boyfriend is kind of funny. When Serena was asked about that she simply giggled. When you look at the men Serena has been involved with, Sascha is hardly her type.

    They were close friends, though, and when Serena was going through a bad patch Sascha took her on holiday to Croatia with him.

    I think Catherine is right. The split probably had more to do with Sascha’s coaching ambitions than anything else. And a couple players later, now he is able to demonstrate that he can be an effective coach.

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