Naomi Osaka has credited Serena Williams for “literally building champions” as she praised the legacy that the 23-time Grand Slam champion is leaving behind.
Osaka, a four-time major winner, is currently taking a break from tennis following her surprise third-round defeat at the US Open earlier this month.
She has revealed that she could be back on court in the near future, and has also talked this week about how Williams has been an inspiration for her.
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“If I were to retire from tennis, I would want people to remember me with how I acted towards people and like how I interacted,” she told HBO’s The Shop.
“Serena. Her legacy is more than her being Serena. I started playing because of her. I'm sure there's so many other girls that started playing because of her, so she literally built champions.
“And I think passing it down is how the newer generations get inspired.”
Williams, who has not played since suffering an injury in the first round of Wimbledon in July, is still bidding to win a 24th Grand Slam title that would move her level with Margaret Court’s all-time record.
Even if she doesn’t lift another major title, her coach Patrick Mouratoglou agrees with Osaka that she should be appreciated for everything else has done for the sport.
"She changed tennis,” he told AFP. “She brought an athletic dimension that there was not there at all, she opened the doors, with her sister Venus, to a whole generation of players because it was a white sport. She invented tennis intimidation because she has a presence that makes others fear her. For a very long time, it was impressive.
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"She also brought the business to women's tennis. Before her, the business was very small and with her it became huge because she has such an aura, she has become such a marketing object, too, that huge contracts are possible for the players."
Neither Williams nor Osaka will be playing the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, which starts on October 4, and will feature US Open champion Emma Raducanu.
Osaka says she has the “itch” to return to tennis but success does not appear to be a motivating factor for the 23-year-old.
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“I want to feel like I’m playing for myself,” Osaka said. “And I started to feel like that power was being taken away from me in the way that I felt like I wasn’t playing to make myself happy and I was more concerned about like, if I won or lost, what would people say about me.
“And I just used to love the competition and just being competitive. If I were to play a long match, the longer it was, the more fun it was for me. And then I just started to feel, like recently, the longer it was, the more stressed out I became.
“But I just needed a break to go within myself and reclaim what was it that [provided motivation]. I’ve been playing tennis since I was three years old; for sure I love the sport, I know I’m going to play again.
"Probably soon, because I kind of have that itch again, but it wouldn’t really matter to me if I won or lost. I’d just have the joy of being back on the court, just to… know that I’m doing it for myself.”
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