Japan celebrated Naomi Osaka’s groundbreaking victory over Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final on Saturday.
They put her stunning success down to a steely focus and humble attitude as much as her powerful performance at Flushing Meadows.
Osaka, who became the first Japanese woman to clinch a Grand Slam singles title, was a picture of calm in the midst of her opponent’s meltdown that cast a pall over the final.
The 20-year-old, born in Japan but raised in the United States, beat her childhood idol 6-2 6-4 on Saturday in a final marred by Williams’s bad behaviour after being handed a code violation for on-court coaching.
The runner-up also smashed her racket and verbally attacked the umpire, Carlos Ramos for penalising her.
“Osaka played so well that Serena wasn’t able to play her tennis and she (Williams) got upset,” said Mitsuko Sakai, 63-year-old amateur tennis player who woke up at 5 a.m. on Sunday in Tokyo to watch the final.
“She remained so calm throughout the match” despite the brouhaha, Sakai said.
“I was very impressed by her mental strength. The entire audience seemed to cheering for Serena but Osaka concentrated on the game and won.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe congratulated Osaka on Twitter, thanking her for “giving Japan a boost of inspiration at this time of hardship”.
It was a likely reference to the earthquake that killed at least, 21 in northern island of Hokkaido on Thursday.
Japan has been charmed by Osaka’s off-court humility and genuineness as much as her on-court ferocity and that unpretentiousness came through in her post-match comments.
While standing on the podium waiting to be handed her trophy, Osaka heard only boos.
That was because angry crowd took out their frustration on umpire Carlos Ramos, whom they perceived to have been too harsh on Williams.
“I know everyone was cheering for her and I’m sorry it had to end like this,” said Osaka. “I just want to say thank you for watching the match.”
Osaka said it was “always my dream to play Serena in the U.S. Open finals,” and that, “I’m really grateful I was able to play with you.
Watching from Tokyo, 60-year-old tennis fan Kiyoshi Ogawa praised Osaka’s humility: “She tried to make all the attention go to Serena. That’s her beauty.
“Tennis is nowhere near as popular as baseball, soccer or sumo in Japan, and the match was broadcast live only on the Wowow cable channel, not on any major television channel.