Tennis holds a special place in the world of women’s sports — it’s one of the only programs today that offers equal pay and media coverage to women competing in major tournaments like Wimbledon. It wasn’t always like this, though. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Original 9, when nine women’s tennis players, including the legendary Billie Jean King, left the U.S. tennis establishment over pay inequality and formed their own tour. In honor of this legacy, this week’s Wonder Woman is tennis superstar Naomi Osaka.
Even if you barely follow tennis, chances are you may have come across the 23-year-old sensation at some point. Her victory over Serena Williams in the 2018 U.S. Open final thrust her into the national spotlight, and she’s only been adding to her titles since. Last year, Osaka held the No. 1 rank in the Women’s Tennis Association for 25 weeks, and set the record for the fastest rise to the No. 1 spot since breaking into the top 10. It took her just 20 weeks. Most recently, she bested Victoria Azarenka after three thrilling sets to claim her second U.S. Open title in September.
Before she defeated fierce competitors in the Women’s Tennis Association, though, Osaka’s first challenger was her older sister, Mari. There’s nothing like sibling rivalry that can drive someone to the very best of their game — as someone with two competitive older sisters, I can certainly attest to that.
What’s remarkable is that it took her 12 years to beat Mari — to put that into perspective, that’s more than half of Osaka’s life. How many people can say that they could lose the same game countless times over and still lace up and swing back harder? Osaka just exhibits a type of tenacity and grit only present in the greatest. Needless to say, it must have been through those competitive matches that she honed her powerful playing style and winning mentality.
It would not be an exaggeration to say Osaka’s forehand is deadly. Her 100 mph shots even inspired a New York Times article to break down its physics. Yet, despite the great amount of force she must exert for each of her swings, the only sounds you’ll hear from her on the court are the squeak of her tennis shoes and the explosive echoes of the ball leaving her racket. Her silence during matches is almost misleading, considering that her returns are calculated, brilliantly placed and executed with finesse — as demonstrated by the multitude of times that she has launched a crosscourt shot while practically sliding into splits. She is not afraid of the hustle, and that’s what makes her one of the best athletes to root for.
Now, currently ranked No. 3 in the world, all eyes are on Naomi Osaka as she continues to dominate the court with a newfound sense of calm that she has gained while away from the sport during quarantine. It’s only a matter of time before she’ll return to claim the No. 1 spot again.