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Naomi Osaka becomes world No. 1 in women's singles tennis rankings

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

Naomi Osaka became the world’s No. 1 women’s singles player on Monday in the wake of her victory in Saturday’s Australian Open final.

The 21-year-old from Japan, who has won the last two Grand Slams, is the first singles player from Asia to top the tennis rankings on either the men’s or women’s tour.

Osaka, who earned her first Grand Slam title last September at the U.S. Open, went into the season-opening Grand Slam in Melbourne as world No. 4. She moved up to top the rankings after beating Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in the final.

“I’m beyond excited to become the new WTA World No. 1,” Osaka was quoted as saying on the WTA website. “I’ve always dreamt of being in this position and I am honored to be part of the elite group of players who have reached the No. 1 ranking.”

Osaka is the 26th woman to hold the top ranking and the youngest to become No. 1 since Caroline Wozniacki, who reached the top spot in 2010 at the age of 20 years and 92 days, according to the WTA.

Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, jumped four spots to No. 2, while Romania’s Simona Halep, who had held the top spot since last February, dropped to third.

The previously highest-ranked female player from Asia was former Chinese great Li Na, who reached No. 2 in February 2014.

Born in Osaka and raised in the United States by her Japanese mother and Haitian father, Osaka, along with her older sister Mari, was groomed for a tennis career from a young age.

Last September, she became the first Japanese player, male or female, to win a singles Grand Slam title after defeating her childhood idol Serena Williams in a controversy-filled U.S. Open final.

The news of Osaka’s ascension to world No. 1 brought another wave of celebration in Nemuro, Hokkaido, the northern Japan city where her mother Tamaki grew up.

The city hall has several pieces of Osaka memorabilia on display, including the tennis racket she gifted her grandfather Tetsuo, and hung a banner on the building saying “congratulations on the win” on Sunday morning, the day after Osaka’s Australian Open triumph.

“I’m happy that the name of the city is spread around the country every time Osaka accomplishes something. I’m looking forward to her future (accomplishments),” said Kazuo Suzuki, a 45-year-old from the city.

While many of her peers approach tennis with a hyper-competitive demeanor, Osaka has endeared herself to fans and the media with her cheerfulness and sense of humor, using her post-match interviews to profess her love for video games and Japanese food, including the fried pork dish katsudon.

Osaka’s victory made her the first woman to win successive majors since Williams in 2015 and the youngest since Martina Hingis in 1998.

Williams went on to complete her second “Serena Slam” — holding all four majors within the same 12 month period — and Osaka was excited about the prospect of claiming the French Open and Wimbledon crowns for a “Naomi Slam”.

“I’m not going to lie and say that thought hasn’t crossed my mind,” Osaka said Sunday. “But I don’t know.

“For me, I just have to take it one tournament at a time, especially Indian Wells is coming up and I won that tournament last year. I feel like I have to think about that.”