Naomi Osaka is one of a generation of players inspired by Serena Williams and she thinks anyone who is writing off the veteran is making a big mistake.
There is an impressive young generation on the rise in women’s tennis, but Naomi Osaka has insisted Serena Williams is far from finished yet.
Brilliant performances in 2019 from the likes of Ashleigh Barty, Bianca Andreescu, Coco Gauff and many more emerging stars, not to mention Osaka herself, have led to much excitement about the future of tennis.
Serena has been beaten in four consecutive Grand Slam finals over the past 18 months, Osaka and Andreescu two of the players to hand her defeats, both at Flushing Meadows.
But the Japanese star believes it would be foolish to consider Serena, who is one triumph away from equalling Margaret Court’s all-time major record of 24, as a fading force in comparison to the new young stars.
Osaka, 22, thinks the way Serena is judged is just a symptom of the American’s unprecedented career success and also reiterated how much the 38-year-old had inspired her own career.
The two-time major winner was speaking to The Daily Telegraph ahead of her defence of the Australian Open next month.
“I think it is silly to write Serena off,” Osaka said.
“She went to the finals at Wimbledon and the US Open. She is in the top 10 and she has played the least number of tournaments out of every player.
“Of course it is hard to compare because she has had a great career but I think people are being a bit hard on her. She isn’t just someone that you write off.
“For me, I wouldn’t have played tennis if it wasn’t for Serena and her sister Venus.
“I watched them play when I was younger and that is why my sister and myself started playing.
“Serena is definitely someone that I look up to.”
But Osaka does think fans are right to be optimistic about the high level of talent on the WTA Tour.
A deep field of contenders at each event means Osaka is the only player who has been able to win back-to-back majors since Serena amazingly won her fourth in a row in 2015.
“There are a lot of really good players coming up now,” added Osaka.
“I feel like everyone is getting a chance to show what they’ve been practising.
“Women’s tennis is really strong right now.”
Osaka had an up-and-down season on the WTA Tour. She started with a bang by winning the Australian Open, struggled badly with form and fitness during the middle of the year and then recovered strongly during the Asian Swing.
She finished the season at number three in the world and was nominated for the WTA Player of the Year award, though Barty ultimately claimed that honour this week.
Serena is preparing for the 2020 season and has been training with fellow American Gauff, along with male players like Marius Copil and Chris Eubanks at a preseason camp in Boca Raton organized by her coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
The Australian Open will be Serena’s next shot at equalling Court’s record Slam total, with Osaka one of those who will pose stiff competition.
Melbourne is the last major Serena Williams won, her triumph in 2017 coming after she came out on top against sister Venus in the final.
Already a great accomplishment, it later became clear she had achieved a remarkable feat by winning the tournament while over eight weeks pregnant.