Oh. Yes. Heck. Yes. Naomi Osaka’s championship victory at the 2018 BNP Paribas open at Indian Wells was the most thrilling win to watch as a fan for me in a very long time. I often speak of my Mount Rushmore top four currently being Madison Keys, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep. But right there at number 5 currently for me was Naomi Osaka. I say “was” because you have to earn your way in to that top four with me. Well, time to make a change. Osaka is now on my Mount Rushmore along with Keys, Sharapova and Kvitova. I still love Simona, she’s number five, but Naomi Osaka is special. Not only is she in my top four now, she is second only to Madison Keys. And who knows? She might unseat Maddie depending on how things go. What an incredible run Osaka had at Indian Wells. She went through five-time major winner and former number one Maria Sharapova. She went through former Wimbledon finalist Agnieska Radwanska. She went through former world number one Karolina Pliskova. She blew through the current world number one Simona Halep extremely easily, 6-3 6-0. And then Naomi claimed her first ever professional title, the first women’s singles title for a Japanese player at Indian Wells, with a 6-3 6-2 straight-set victory over Daria Kasatkina, a fellow 20 year old Rising Star, who herself was coming off of a string of incredible wins including an epic three-setter against Venus Williams. In 2001, Japan’s Ai Sugiyama won a doubles title at Indian Wells with American Nicole Arendt. The power game of Osaka is now coupled with a new patience. If she can maintain her newfound consistency under the tutelage of coach Sascha Bajin, former hitting partner of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki, we could be seeing a player that could dominate women’s tennis for the next 8 to 10 years. But let me not put a ton on her shoulders after her first ever big win, actually her first win of any kind on the professional level. Obviously, other young big time players with talent like Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, Daria Kasatkina, the comebacking Belinda Bencic and others will have a lot to say about that. And the established players like Halep, Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova and still young Caroline Wozniacki will also stand in the way over the next decade. But Osaka is special if she can maintain this consistency. Like Madison Keys, she has what some people would call easy power. The ball just jumps off of her strings in a way that it does for few others. She has the ability when she’s on to take the racket out of her opponents hands. There’s nothing they can do when she’s on. But that’s the future. Let’s just let Naomi enjoy what she has done presently. And as a side note, there is also a part of me that roots for her because she has a black father and an Asian mother, was born in Asia and moved to America when she was 3 years old. That is exactly the same thing that is true of me. I don’t really like to inject things like that into my fandom. However, if I’m being honest, I would have been her fan regardless but those extra details in her life story matching mine does enhance my fandom for her.
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NAOMI OSAKA, 2018 BNP PARIBAS OPEN WINNER