Naomi Osaka admitted in a recent interview that she had considered a quick retirement from tennis at one stage, believing that she would never play the sport after reaching her 30s.
But now in her second innings as a WTA player following a break maternity break, the Japanese has understood just how important it is for the next generation to have role models in the game.
Osaka, after missing the 2023 season entirely, returned to action at the start of the new season in Australia, where she faced a hasty exit from the Australian Open. She is now in Abu Dhabi for the WTA 500 event and is set to take on Danielle Collins in her opener.
Speaking to the National News before the tournament, the four-time Grand Slam champion revealed that she has a new perspective on her career now, especially when it comes to retirement.
Having played against Serena Williams, whom Osaka personally considers a role model, the former World No. 1 how lucky she was to have that experience. It would not have been possible had Williams retired in her mid-30s – a fact that has given Naomi Osaka something to think about concerning her own time in tennis.
For those unaware, Serena Williams was active on the WTA Tour until the age of 40, finally calling it quits at the 2022 US Open with one final hurrah in front of her home fans.
Osaka also brought up another legend, Chinese icon Li Na – another of her role models. Unfortunately, Osaka did not have the opportunity to share the court with her before the two-time Grand Slam champion’s retirement in 2014.
Having experienced firsthand how much the presence of someone like that could motivate up-and-coming players on the tour, Osaka admitted that she hopes to do the same one day herself.
“You know what’s weird? Maybe a couple of years ago, I really couldn’t imagine myself playing past like 32. But I think now, coming back, I realize how important role models are in tennis and how lucky I am to have played Serena [Williams],” Osaka said.
“I wish I could have played Li Na, because she’s my other role model that I loved growing up. But just to have those figureheads still in the game when you’re coming up is really cool. I feel like that’s something I would want to, I guess, be on the other end of, towards the tail-end of my career,” she added.
“Serena Williams’ legacy is really wide to the point where you can’t even describe it in words” – Naomi Osaka