Naomi Osaka called lighting the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony on Friday the “greatest athletic achievement” of her life.
The lighting of the cauldron is one of the most anticipated parts of an Olympic opening ceremony, and the identity of the final torchbearer is usually a heavily guarded secret, which only ramps up the drama.
Because of the transcendent nature of the Olympics, the position is one of the most prestigious in all of sports. From the time Osaka was revealed as the final runner to the moment the cauldron was lit, the world was watching her
That includes her peers, some of whom were just as excited as everyone else to see the four-time Grand Slam winner on such a major stage.
“I feel proud,” said Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who is No. 18 in the WTA rankings. “I think it’s great.
“I’m also a tennis player and I’m a female tennis player and it makes me feel proud. It feels great that we get appreciated, Naomi Osaka and all of us, female tennis. I think it’s a great sport and I’m proud of being in such great company with all the amazing tennis players.”
Osaka is the first tennis player to light the cauldron.
Novak Djokovic, the world’s top-ranked man, saw it as a banner moment for tennis.
“It cannot be better for our sport, you are representing yourself, your country but also your sport,” Djokovic said.
“In the Olympic Games, you’re trying to get the hype and the attention towards our sport as much as you possibly can, so we’re all contributing to that in the Olympic Village. There’s a lot of attention towards the tennis players which is great.”
Osaka was set to be among the most-watched athletes during the Tokyo Games even before the opening ceremony. The 23-year-old is the No. 2 player in the world and one of the most famous athletes around the globe.
Osaka is seen as one of the host nation’s strongest medal hopes. With the tournament being played on hard courts — her preferred surface — Osaka is also among the favorites to win gold.
She was supposed to take the court on Saturday, but her first-round match against China’s Zheng Saisai was pushed back one day. Osaka has not played since pulling out of the French Open in May over a dispute over her decision to skip her media availability.
She made her return to the public eye in style, commanding the attention of many around the globe on Friday as she helped to officially open the Games.
“It’s amazing,” No. 8 Iga Swiatek said. “I think she deserves it, with all her great results. It’s good that she got the honor to do that and the opportunity. It’s a pretty special moment, so I hope she’s going to remember that.”
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