HAKUBA – Japan rejoiced on Saturday as Naomi Osaka clinched her second consecutive Grand Slam title and became the World No 1 following a 7-6(2) 5-7 6-4 victory over Petra Kvitova in the final of the Australian Open.
She became the first Japanese tennis player to win the Australian Open, and the first Asian player to claim the No 1 ranking.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led the tributes following her victory in Melbourne.
“The thrill of a hard-fought victory! Congratulations on winning the Australian Open, Naomi Osaka,” Abe wrote on his official Twitter page.
“I am very proud of the emergence of a new queen. I look forward to your continued accomplishments.”
Her compatriot Kei Nishikori, who had to withdraw during his Australian Open quarter-final with Novak Djokovic through injury, also took to Twitter, congratulating Osaka with a series of thumbs-up, trophy and Japanese flag emojis.
Local television channels showed people in Tokyo gathering to snatch a copy of a special edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper detailing Osaka’s victory.
In the ski resort of Hakuba, which hosted events during the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998, a small group of tennis fans celebrated as they watched the final at the local sports bar.
大接戦を制しての感動の勝利！大坂なおみ選手、全豪オープンの優勝、おめでとうございます。全米オープンに続く、四大大会制覇。そして世界ランク1位。— 安倍晋三 (@AbeShinzo) January 26, 2019
“I am so pleased for Naomi, she deserved this win,” said 52-year-old local Hitomi Takeda.
“We are so happy for her as a Japanese,” added Keiko Kobayashi. “She is one of us, and she represents us so well on the world stage.”
Osaka, whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese, has helped to break new ground in Japan, challenging the country’s traditional self-image as a racially homogenous country.
“My daughter is also half-Japanese,” said Hitoshi Watanabe, as he bought a celebratory round of drinks at the Hakuba bar.
“Hopefully this gives her the motivation to do the same. Anything she wants, she can now do.”