Tennis: Japan’s celebrations rocket into orbit as Osaka’s win takes off
TOKYO: Japan’s celebrations for Naomi Osaka’s fourth Grand Slam title went into orbit on Saturday (Feb 20), with an astronaut tweeting congratulations from the International Space Station.
Osaka’s 6-4, 6-3 triumph over America’s Jennifer Brady in the Australian Open final was hailed in Japan and beyond, as astronaut Soichi Noguchi wrote from space “Naomi Osaka, congratulations on the victory”, with a gold-medal emoji.
Japan’s media said it brought prospects of a gold medal at the coronavirus-delayed Tokyo Olympics “a big step closer”.
At a large pub in the Japanese capital, there was no roar of celebration but plenty of excitement from fans at socially distanced tables.
“She was perfect. I expected her to win this game, because she won against Serena (Williams), and that was a good performance,” said Moeko, 40, describing herself as the Japanese player’s “biggest fan”.
“She is such a great player, and such a good person,” Moeko, a cheerleading coach, told AFP.
Major broadcasters flashed news of the 23-year-old’s latest Grand Slam win, which added to victories at the 2018 US Open, the 2019 Australian Open and the 2020 US Open.
“Osaka got a big step closer to winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics,” the Nikkan Sports daily said of the player, who is a leading face of the Games in her home nation.
“The Australian victory is a barometer for the gold medal” at the Tokyo Games, where tennis matches are played on the same type of court, the newspaper said – calling Osaka “the queen of hard courts”.
Osaka has said she is still keen to compete at the Tokyo Olympics, which were delayed by one year by the pandemic and are due to open in July.
“It wasn’t easy to prepare during the coronavirus pandemic, but she played excellently,” said Kenichiro Yamanishi, chair of the Japan Tennis Association.
“The season has just begun ahead of the Tokyo Olympics this summer. I am looking forward to an even greater performance,” Yamanishi said.
At the Tokyo pub, 17-year-old Riko, watching the final with her family, said Osaka was popular among her friends and other young people. “She’s amazing,” she said.
Yumi, a 38-year-old paralegal, told AFP she had been sure Osaka would win.
“Of course I feel proud,” she said. “Japan is a closed island, but she is completely different … I am really proud of her, as a Japanese person.”
“She made an effort for Black Lives Matter, and she can make a big difference to people’s views, not only in Japan but in other Asian countries.”