Serena Williams has ‘built champions’, hails tennis superstar Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka discusses training while in coronavirus lockdown

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Serena Williams has been credited with inspiring a whole new generation of female tennis stars to pick up a racket and follow in her footsteps. The 23-time Grand Slam champion dominated the sport alongside sister Venus for years, and still holds out hope of matching Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 titles in major tournaments.

Her first major singles title came at the US Open in 1999, and added 22 more over the next 18 years as well as 14 more successes in doubles Grand Slams.

As well as breaking records and winning trophies for herself, part of Williams’ everlasting legacy is the swathe of youngsters around the world who took up the sport because they wanted to be like her.

Naomi Osaka was one of those, and already has four Grand Slam titles of her own at the age of 23.

“Serena. Her legacy is more than her being Serena,” Osaka told HBO’s The Shop.

“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.”

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The Japanese star is currently on a break from the sport to protect her mental health, in the wake of her high-profile refusal to fulfil her media duties on tour and her third round defeat to eventual finalist Leylah Fernandez at last month’s US Open.

While some have been critical of Osaka, many have praised her for being brave enough to speak publicly about the pressure placed on athletes.

She hopes this will become part of her own legacy when she once day chooses to quit the sport.

“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,” Osaka added.

Williams’ last singles Grand Slam title came at the 2017 Australian Open, following which she took a year out of the sport for the birth of her child.

She has been the runner-up at four majors since then but that 24th Grand Slam continues to elude her.

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Even if that remains the case, coach Patrick Mouratoglou also believes there is no-one else in the sport whose legacy can match hers.

“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.

“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.”

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