Kimiko Date, the last Japanese woman to reach the Australian Open semi-finals prior to Naomi Osaka’s run this fortnight, has hailed the 21-year-old’s progress over the past 12 months and is happy to see a countrywoman excel on the sport’s biggest stages.
Osaka became the first Japanese player – man or woman – to win a Grand Slam when she lifted the US Open trophy last September, stunning Serena Williams in the final.
Born in Osaka to a Haitian father and Japanese mother, Osaka has lived in the United States since she was three years old and has fans in all corners of the globe.
She is attempting to reach a second consecutive Grand Slam final when she takes on Karolina Pliskova in Thursday’s semi and is in contention for the world No. 1 ranking this tournament.
If she manages to book a spot in the final against Petra Kvitova, the winner of that match would be the new world No. 1.
Date made the Australian final in Melbourne in 1994 and is a former world No. 4, who retired from tennis in 2017, aged 47. Currently in Melbourne doing media work for Japanese TV channel Wowow, Date discussed Osaka’s rising popularity in Japan.
“Of course it’s good for Japanese tennis. She grew up in the States but everybody is so happy and we support her a lot,” Date told Sport360.
“So many people are following. Now I’m working for Wowow TV and so many people are tuning in and watching. Now she’s very famous in Japan.”
Osaka is making history for Japan with every new achievement on the tour and Date is impressed with how the youngster has been handling it all.
“I think she is under so much pressure but she manages to control it,” said Date.
“She has so much power and speed and now she knows how to play with it, and is patient on court. She has had some good comebacks this week which shows she has improved a lot mentally.”
Osaka fought back from a set down in the third round against Hsieh Su-Wei, and against Anastasija Sevastova in the fourth round and will be bidding for a seventh top-10 victory of her career when she squares off with Pliskova on Thursday.
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