Japanese fans celebrate Naomi Osaka’s rise to top of tennis world

TOKYO — Japanese fans celebrated Naomi Osaka’s Australian Open title on Saturday, saying her win will serve as an inspiration to future generations.

Osaka beat Petra Kvitova 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-4 to claim a second consecutive Grand Slam title. Osaka also, 21, becomes the first tennis player from Japan to reach No. 1 in the rankings.

Osaka was born in Osaka, Japan — her mother is Japanese, her father is Haitian — and she moved to New York at age 3.

“As a Japanese person, I’m very proud,” said Satoshi Mizutani, 28, who works in finance. “She showed a lot of character in coming back after dropping the second set. I think she is an inspiration to young people in Japan who can learn to do whatever they want if they work hard for it.”

A loyal throng of fans gathered at Legends sports bar in the Roppongi entertainment district, braving bitterly cold temperatures in Tokyo to watch Osaka’s match.

“I never imagined in my lifetime that a Japanese player would reach No. 1,” said Daisuke Aizawa, 43. “Tennis is already popular here but this will just add to its popularity and I’m sure more young people will take up the sport now.”

Osaka has been a star in Japan since she beat Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final last year. She became the first woman to win back-to-back majors since Williams in 2015.

Osaka’s performance at the Australian Open has topped daily news coverage in Japan. Her results on the court and her quirky sense of humor have sent her popularity skyrocketing, and her endorsements now include major brands including Adidas, Nissan, Yonex, Citizen, Nissin and Shiseido.

Osaka’s victory at the U.S. Open was the first Grand Slam singles title by either a man or woman of Japanese nationality.

Osaka’s rise to the top couldn’t come at a better time. With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics looming, she could become the face of the games.

“It would be fantastic to see her represent Japan,” Aizawa said. “I think she would be the favorite to win gold and that would be a huge boost for Japan.”

Jim Armstrong is an Associated Press writer.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Japanese-fans-celebrate-Naomi-Osaka-s-rise-to-13564274.php.

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