Now, the 20-year-old rising tennis star is shooting for the very title herself as she takes on six-time champion Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final on Saturday.
Even more incredibly, however, is that Osaka has been able to eclipse this data in NY these last two weeks - the Japanese player has held serve 92.2% and broken 52.9% (combined 145.1%) and with this in mind, she clearly can not be ruled out of the final here.
Born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, the family moved to NY when she was 3 and relocated to Florida a few years later.
Osaka toppled 2017's runner-up American Madison Keys 6-2 6-4 on Thursday, earning her a spot in the Grand Slam final against Serena Williams, whom Osaka admired since she started watching the U.S. Open on television as a child. "Cosmopolitan, appealing personality, cool mixed-race look, interesting background, charming on camera".
Williams made light of her deft touch at the net. While Serena's fitness (and her serve) were two big factors in question in her return, especially in her only meeting against Osaka in Miami, her play in NY has shown improvement in both areas.
Osaka could be that athlete but tennis has been fooled before.
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Tennis has produced a procession of young talented players from Eastern Europe who have racked up piles of titles but off court have been unable to move the needle.
Osaka wasn't even a year old when Williams played in her first U.S. Open in 1998. This is only her third appearance at Flushing Meadows, according to Reuters.
Asked during her on-court interview how she managed to stave off all of those break chances, Osaka replied with a laugh, "This is going to sound really bad, but I was just thinking, 'I really want to play Serena"'.
"I played obscenity", she told the New York Times, avoiding swearing. If she's sad, she's going to show it. "There is no fake emotions".
She seems younger than her age, carrying a youthful innocence. She was ranked No. 44 in the world and had just hired Williams' former hitting partner, Sascha Bajin, as her coach when she beat Maria Sharapova, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and Daria Kasatkina to win the Indian Wells title. "I think I was on my fourth surgery by now", Williams said.
"There is still a lot more I plan on doing".