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OSAKA STEPS OUT OF THE SHADOWS

by

Matt Zemek

Technically, Naomi Osaka stepped out of the shadows at Indian Wells earlier this year, so for anyone who looked at the title of this piece and felt, “Wait a minute, that’s not true,” we know. We know that Osaka had already stepped forth into the bright sunshine of tennis success.

The title — “Osaka Steps Out Of The Shadows” — is more a reference to the idea that Osaka’s U.S. Open championship, her first major title, will be overshadowed by Serena Williams’ behavior and chair umpire Carlos Ramos’s decision to award point and game penalties late in the second set of Saturday’s women’s final in Flushing Meadows, New York.

Will this title be overshadowed? What I think — or what you think — about this subject should be secondary to the substantive reality that Osaka played a high-quality match against a 23-time major champion. Will this title be overshadowed? That should be secondary to the reality that Osaka played her first major final at age 20 with the poise of a veteran.

Will this title be overshadowed? That should be secondary to the fact that Osaka continued to play big points well, losing serve only once, and immediately breaking back after falling behind by a break in the second set.

Will this title be overshadowed? That should be secondary to the reality that Osaka was the better player.

Will this title be overshadowed? That should be secondary to the reality that the WTA has produced eight different major champions, five of them first-timers (Jelena Ostapenko, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep, Osaka), in the past two calendar years, all of them worthy victors after playing terrific tennis in their crowning tournaments.

Will this title be overshadowed? That should be secondary to the reality that in a 2018 season in which veterans finally won first major titles (Woz and Halep) and another veteran won her third major (Angelique Kerber), Osaka joined Ostapenko as a player who was 20 years old on the day of her first major championship. Osaka has therefore shown that unlike Sascha Zverev and other early-20s members of the ATP Tour, the WTA has players who can deliver the goods at the biggest tournaments. Aryna Sabalenka, the woman Osaka narrowly defeated in the fourth round at this U.S. Open, could follow Ostapenko’s 2017 Roland Garros and Osaka’s 2018 U.S. Open at one of the majors in 2019.

Will this title be overshadowed? You have your opinion. I have mine. They don’t matter.

Will this title be overshadowed? Not if people in positions such as mine — an editor and lead writer for a tennis website — keep the focus where it should belong: Naomi Osaka’s luminous, high-quality tennis.

Image – Jimmie 48

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