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It’s been a historic year for Naomi Osaka, and she’s made history again this week by rising to No. 4 in the WTA rankings—tying the all-time record for highest-ranked Japanese player, male or female.
Having broken into the Top 10 for the first time after winning the US Open—which made her the first Japanese player in tennis history, male or female, to win a Grand Slam title—Osaka is now up to No. 4 after deep runs in her two tournaments since then, reaching the Tokyo final and Beijing semifinals.
Two Japanese players have previously been ranked as high as No. 4—Kimiko Date, who spent seven weeks at No. 4 in the WTA rankings in 1995, and Kei Nishikori, who spent 12 weeks at No. 4 in the ATP rankings (which includes eight weeks in 2015, two weeks in 2016 and two weeks in 2017).
Neither Date nor Nishikori ever made it any higher than No. 4.
“I’m the type of person who doesn’t really stop to think about what I’ve done,” Osaka said during her run in Beijing. “Right after the US Open I played Tokyo, and I’m sort of grateful I played there because I could go straight into tournament mode again. I’m trying to get used to going deeper in tournaments.
“I just want to keep doing things. I want to keep pushing myself, especially when I see other people my age doing really great. Maybe at the end of this year I’ll stop and think about what I’ve done.”
Osaka was also asked about handling higher expectations now that she’s a Grand Slam champion.
“So, like, I think humans are people, they’re never happy,” she replied. “And I’m not really talking about myself. I’m just saying, like, from the outside, I guess. Like, if you don’t win a tournament, then people will say, ‘Oh, she hasn’t won a tournament.’ If you haven’t won a Slam, they’ll say, ‘She hasn’t won a Slam.’ Then if you win one Grand Slam, they’re like, ‘Oh, she only won one Grand Slam.’
“I sort of read the comments. I’m like, ‘Oh, I guess I have to do more, to be better.’ In a way it’s good because I think that way myself anyway. It’s one of the things that makes me want to prove myself.”
Though she had to withdraw from this week’s International-level stop in Hong Kong with a back injury, Osaka’s in an excellent position to set the all-time Japanese ranking record—she only has 61 ranking points to defend before the Australian Open next January, and this past week she actually qualified for the WTA Finals in Singapore, where the champion could earn up to 1,500 ranking points.
“I’m very excited about Singapore,” she said. “It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that I’m going to have. I think it’s going to be really fun and exciting—I play well when I have those feelings.”
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