Australian Open 2021: Osaka, the missing link | sports

What to do after knocking down a legend like Serena Williams and getting a ticket to a Grand Slam final, the second in Melbourne and the third in a race that, if she won the final today against Jennifer Brady, would start to paint something more than serious? For Naomi osaka, the answer is simple: take advantage of the cameras to send a message to a family member.

“Mari, stop sending strange images to the group chat!”, The 23-year-old Japanese stamped, just after beating the almighty Williams, who faces her twilight phase and sooner or later will leave a gigantic gap in a circuit that demands For a long time, too, a substitute that relieves the benchmark of the last 22 years, when the American began to win. Retired Maria Sharapova and in decline Serena, women’s tennis twists in search of symbols that hook the fans and also the sponsors. And out there, Osaka rises with force, that teenager who dazzled three years ago in New York, knocking down her iconic friend, and who now raises her hand, applying, without fear, firmly. It is not an easy task, but an heiress is guessed. Time will tell.

For now, Osaka will wake up this Saturday (9.30, Eurosport) with the possibility of scoring his fourth Grand Slam and maintaining an important cadence. He made his way into the 2018 US Open, continued in Melbourne the following year, and last year he took the silent New York edition. That is, it is going to major per season. The heads of the WTA, the body that manages the women’s circuit, contemplate with satisfaction. They were crying out for a link to soften Williams’ progressive decline and the Japanese complies from all angles: sports, commercial and intangibles. Seduce playing and invoice like nobody else. People love her.

Osaka has a juicy story behind it. The daughter of a Haitian and a Japanese who had to emigrate from the Asian country to the United States due to racism, she has become a convinced activist. “Before I am a tennis player, I am a black woman,” she has said more than once. Following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, he traveled to Minneapolis to join the protest marches and then raised his voice with an article in Esquire magazine. He was also on the cover of Time (“The New American Revolution”) and paraded at the last US Open with the names of black victims in the masks he wore.

From the economic prism, the multinational IMG has managed to elevate her to the altars, to the point that the latest report from Forbes magazine revealed that she is currently the highest paid athlete on the planet. With annual revenues of 34.2 million, it exceeds Williams by 1.4. The current number three in the world is quite a reef, especially among the youngest. Its advisors have designed a sophisticated sponsorship framework associating it with a style and brands that attract generation Z. Its shyness, its clear way of speaking and its freshness have an unmatched pull today, as its brand grows and also its dimension as tennis player.

After a wild outbreak, he got lost for a while and then re-energized his game. She reached the top of the ranking and after some wanderings she returned to focus and the rivals fear her. “When I was number one, I felt like I had to do more than the rest,” she remembered these days. “I felt like I had to do it like Federer and the other two greats do, or like Serena has done for so long, but I pushed myself too hard. It seemed like he had to win or win always. It was something like me against the world, and when you are there you have to overcome that feeling ”.

On the court, Osaka asserts herself every day as an extremely aggressive player, who is used to controlling and resolving points with the minimum number of strokes. “Women’s tennis has a new boss. She is really charismatic, has hardly any weaknesses and can still improve. Play like the champions do ”, sentenced this week on the Eurosport channel the Belgian Justine Henin, former number one and winner of seven majors. “I wanted to be the first Japanese to win a Grand Slam, that was my goal when I started; then other barriers appeared to break and now I feel that the purpose of my trip is different. I want to make history ”, she says without transmitting vertigo, with that soft tone that characterizes her.

Against the guerrilla Brady (24th on the world list, new to such a game), he can take a new step.