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Where EAST meets the Northwest


TENNIS TRIUMPH. Naomi Osaka of Japan reacts after winning a point against Serena Williams during the womenís final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. Osaka grew up rooting for Williams, even did a report on her way back in third grade. Her dream was to play her idol at the U.S. Open. Her dream became reality when she beat Williams 6-2, 6-4 to become the first Grand Slam singles champion from Japan. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

GRAND SLAM CHAMP. Naomi Osaka of Japan returns a shot during a match at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. Osaka beat Serena Williams 6-2, 6-4 to become the first Grand Slam singles champion from Japan. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

From The Asian Reporter, V28, #18 (September 17, 2018), pages 1, 5 & 8.

Naomi Osaka, 20, beats idol Serena to win the U.S. Open

By Brian Mahoney

AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK ó Naomi Osaka walked to the net, the excitement of being a Grand Slam champion mixed with a bit of sadness.

She grew up rooting for Serena Williams, even did a report on her way back in third grade. Her dream was to play her idol at the U.S. Open.

So when she had actually done it, beating Williams 6-2, 6-4 to become the first Grand Slam singles champion from Japan, why was it so difficult?

"Because I know that, like, she really wanted to have the 24th Grand Slam, right?" Osaka said. "Everyone knows this. Itís on the commercials, itís everywhere.

"When I step onto the court, I feel like a different person, right? Iím not a Serena fan. Iím just a tennis player playing another tennis player. But then when I hugged her at the net ... I felt like a little kid again."

Osaka teared up as she was finishing her answer, still overwhelmed as she juggled the idea of her winning and Williams losing.

Though her nerves on the tennis court donít show it, it was a reminder of just how youthful the 20-year-old Osaka is. Not since Maria Sharapova was 19 in 2006 has the U.S. Open had a younger womenís champion.

The way Williams lost, of course, was what stood out most in the match. The arguments with chair umpire Carlos Ramos and the three code violations ó one that gave Osaka a game for a 5-3 lead in the second set when Williams was trying to rally ó will be what was most remembered.

But not for Osaka, who claimed to not even hear the interactions between Williams and Ramos. What will stay with her is the hug at the net afterward, and Williamsí kind words during the trophy presentation, when she asked a booing crowd to focus its intention on Osakaís moment.

"So for me, Iím always going to remember the Serena that I love," Osaka said. "It doesnít change anything for me. She was really nice to me, like, at the net and on the podium. I donít really see what would change."

Osaka was nervous before the final, making a few phone calls to her sister in Paris to calm her down. Even during the match, whenever she was faced with a tough spot, she kept telling herself to try to do what Williams would do.

Williams was certainly impressed.

"She was so focused," the 36-year-old Williams said. "I think, you know, whenever I had a break point, she came up with some great serve. Honestly, thereís a lot I can learn from her from this match. I hope to learn a lot from that."

It was that way throughout the tournament for Osaka, who won the second title of her career. She was mostly dominant, dropping only one set in her seven matches, and she saved five of six break points against Williams after erasing all 13 in the semifinals against Madison Keys.

Thatís the kind of toughness Williams has so often shown in winning 23 Grand Slam singles titles, one shy of the record. Itís one of the things Osaka always admired about Williams, and made her choose her as the topic of that report years ago.

"I colored it and everything," Osaka said. "I said, ĎI want to be like her.í"

On that day, she was better.

* * *

EARNING ACCEPTANCE. Sports and tabloid newspapers reporting on Naomi Osakaís victory in the U.S. Open tennis finals are seen at a newsstand in Tokyo. Two days after becoming the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam tennis title, Osaka was still filling the front pages of the countryís three major daily newspapers. Her halting Japanese, her manners ó she bowed and apologized after beating Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final ó and her simple charm have swelled national pride in Japan and eclipsed many questions about her mixed-race parentage in a famously insular country. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

From The Asian Reporter, V28, #18 (September 17, 2018), pages 1, 5 & 8.

Osaka charms Japan with her manners ó and broken Japanese

By Stephen Wade and Mari Yamaguchi

The Associated Press

TOKYO ó Naomi Osakaís halting Japanese, her manners ó she bowed and apologized after beating Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final ó and her simple charm have swelled national pride in Japan and eclipsed many questions about her mixed-race parentage in a famously insular country.

Two days after becoming the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam tennis title, Osaka was still filling the front pages of the countryís three major daily newspapers and led discussions on talk shows.

The perspective from Japan a day after her win: Osaka is being embraced as Japanese despite her mixed background. National pride ó at least for now ó is overriding questions of cultural identity and what it means to be Japanese.

Williamsí dramatic behavior during a chaotic final, a hot topic in the United States and around the world, has been largely brushed aside in Japan with the focus on Osakaís poise under pressure.

Japanís largest newspaper, Yomiuri, called Osaka a "new heroine that Japan is proud of" and characterized her appeal as "the contrast between her strength on the court and her innocent character off the court."

Yomiuri centered Osakaís photograph holding the U.S. Open trophy at the top of its front page ó as did the two other large dailies. In a headline inside the paper, Yomiuri called her an "Overnight Queen ó Powerful and Stable."

The Asahi newspaper also called her the "New Queen," picking up on her mix of "strength and gentleness."

None of the main-line newspapers dwelled too much on her background, which has been well reported. She was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, moved to the United States when she was three years old, and now lives in Florida where she has trained for more than a decade.

In an interview from New York on Japanís TBS television, she was asked what she wants to do now. She replied in Japanese: "Have curried rice topped with a pork cutlet." Then she slipped into English and said: "I am very honored. I donít know how to say that in Japanese."

She gave some of the same answers in a similar interview with Japanís NTV television.

"She is such a lovable character," said Seiji Miyane, the NTV talk show host.

She smiled through the media pressure, which several newspapers have called a Japanese trait. Her broken Japanese works as an asset, apologizing occasionally for getting the wrong word ó or not knowing the Japanese word at all.

"She is not the type of person who asserts herself boldly, but she is shy and humble and that makes her look more like a Japanese," Junko Okamoto, a communications specialist, wrote in the weekly magazine Toyokeizai.

Okamoto also said Osaka could become a face of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, leading to big sponsorship deals.

Forbes magazine has reported that Williams is the highest earning female athlete with an income of $18 million per year, almost all from endorsements. The Evening Fuji tabloid newspaper, citing Forbes, speculated wildly about Osakaís potential lifetime earnings. Its headline suggested she could earn $100 million.

The Mainichi, one of the top three general circulation newspapers, noted that Osaka was wearing a dress at a victory celebration from a well-known Japanese designer.

Osakaís 73-year-old grandfather, Tetsuo Osaka, surfaced in several interviews from Japanís northern island of Hokkaido, where he heads a fishing cooperative.

Their relationship seems solid now, but The New York Times reported that for more than a decade, Naomiís mother, Tamaki, had little contact with her family in Japan.

Roland Kirishima, a photographer who is half Japanese and Scottish, criticized some internet comments questioning if Osaka is really Japanese, because of her darker skin color.

"Look at the French soccer team that won the World Cup," he wrote on Twitter. "Half of the players are immigrantsí sons or multiracial. Iím surprised many people in Japan are still obsessed with racial purity. Itís 21st century already. Please overcome this type of insular prejudice."

It looks like Japan has taken at least a first step.

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