Naomi Osaka was still an infant when Serena Williams won her first Grand Slam title, and now the 20-year-old tennis phenom has the chance to play against her childhood idol on the biggest stage — and she is getting plenty of viral attention in the process.
Osaka advanced to the final of the U.S. Open on Saturday, and in doing so generated quite a bit of attention for herself. A number of news outlets wrote features on the rising star in the tennis world and pictures of Osaka spread across social media as fans sought to learn more about her. As the New York Times noted, Osaka was born in Japan and has Japanese citizenship, but grew up mostly in the United States as she trained for her tennis career.
Osaka, playing against her childhood idol on one of the biggest stages, said she is having a difficult time processing all of it.
“Of course it feels a little bit, like, surreal,” said Osaka, who, like Serena Williams, is the younger sister. “Even when I was a little kid, I always dreamed that I would play Serena in a final of a Grand Slam. Just the fact that it is happening, I’m very happy about it. At the same time, I feel like even though I should enjoy this moment, I should still think of it as another match. I shouldn’t really think of her as, like, my idol.”
There is anything but a fierce rivalry between the two. After Osaka advanced to the U.S. Open final, she was asked if she had any message to share with Williams. Her answer, “I love you.”
Naomi Osaka's message to Serena before they face each other in the US Open final?
"I love you." ???????? pic.twitter.com/B7m8FzJWjm
— espnW (@espnW) September 7, 2018
— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) September 6, 2018
But Osaka has been here before. She faced off against Serena Williams in the Miami Open, just after Williams gave birth to her daughter. Osaka won in straight sets. The U.S. Open final will be a bigger challenge, with Williams back to full health and playing in an event that she’s already won six times before.
And the two had an encounter four years before when Osaka was a 16-year-old fan meeting her favorite player. Pictures of the 2014 meeting have circulated on the internet as well.
Naomi Osaka took these photos with her idol Serena Williams at the Bank of the West Classic in 2014. Now they will play for the 2018 US Open Title on Saturday. ????????
(photos WTA, Bank of the West Classic FB) pic.twitter.com/JpEw0X4W0K
— LaWanda (@lawanda50) September 7, 2018
Naomi Osaka will have a chance for even more viral fame at the U.S. Open final, where a win would put her among the biggest rising stars on the women’s side and could set the stage for a rivalry with her childhood idol.