Naomi Osaka Says She Was ‘Whisked Away’ Amid the Drama After Winning U.S. Open
Naomi Osaka tells PEOPLE what it was like to win the U.S. Open
The 20-year-old tennis prodigy who beat Serena Williams at Saturday’s U.S. Open women’s singles final is — naturally — feeling quite overwhelmed by the whole experience.
In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, Naomi Osaka delved into what it felt like to play her childhood idol and how she and her family are coping with the drama surrounding her win.
To start, the Japanese athlete explained that, no, she wasn’t nervous playing Williams, 36, “because I played her once before. The reason why I would be nervous was because I’ve never played a finals before. Otherwise, when I stepped onto the court I felt completely fine. When I play, I feel like a different person so I felt pretty comfortable.”
When asked about the conflict between Williams and the umpire that dominated the aftermath of the game, the first Japanese Grand Slam winner said, “I still didn’t really know what the controversy was about,” adding, “I felt like so much went on. I feel like I’ve never won a Grand Slam so everything feels really new. I’ve been surrounded by my mom and my dad this entire time and we’ve been celebrating.”
She also hasn’t seen Williams since the match: “I got whisked away as soon as the ceremony finished,” she said.
During the U.S. Open women’s final, Williams got in a verbal altercation with chair umpire Carlos Ramos, whom she called a “thief,” and she was later issued three violations, including one for breaking her racket. Critics called the punishment sexist, asserting that men regularly get angry on court without being penalized. Once the match concluded, Williams didn’t shake the umpire’s hand and she continued demanding an apology as the crowd roared with boos until the trophy ceremony, where the 23-time Grand Slam champion instructed, “No more booing!”
Above all, for Osaka, this period of her life is about planning for her next opportunity to win big, but she’s also thinking about what that could mean for aspiring athletes, especially biracial people, back home in Japan.
“I’m always trying to do the next thing so I’m constantly trying to win more so right now I’m thinking about the next tournament — but at that moment, I do feel like I accomplished a lot,” she shared. “Growing up and having so many role models and inspirations, I’ve always wanted to be thought of that way by someone else. If that time comes, I’d be very grateful.”
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In the same interview with PEOPLE, Osaka revealed her playlist before Saturday’s big game. “I listened to Nicki Minaj‘s new album [Queen],” she said. She also shared that she commits to one musician before matches and only switches if she loses, adding “I’m genuinely more into hip-hop and rap.”
Osaka, who is currently based in Florida, is the youngest woman in the world’s Top 20 and Japan’s highest-ranked female player in more than a decade, a label she’s quite proud of.
“I hope people over [in Japan] are happy,” she said about her win. “That’s the main thing that I wish,” she said.