Naomi Osaka might not agree but many will consider her to have become the “face of tennis” now that she has won a fourth slam in four final appearances. It was pointed out to the winner of the 2021 Australian Open that she had made the comment that Serena Williams will be the face of tennis as long as she is still playing. Did a fourth slam or even beating Williams in the semi-final change that? “No. Not at all.” It was the shortest of any answer in her post-victory press conference but unlike all of those shots she made at Melbourne Park, Osaka was wide of the mark. Say hello to the #AO2021 Champ @naomiosaka | #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/aYoDKs9vVb — #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 21, 2021 The 23-year-old is 19 slams short of Williams, one of the greatest athletes of all time across any sport, but she has already surpassed her off the court. Last year Osaka was named the most valuable female athlete and 29th best paid in sport by Forbes, passing Williams at No 33 along the way. Osaka beats Brady in straight sets to win Australian Open That they are the only two women on a 100-strong list is the subject for a different debate but one where Osaka might yet usher in significant change. She has stood up for racial and social justice as the softly spoken, once shy, star has found her voice over the last year or so, only becoming more marketable along the way. She signed deals with Louis Vuitton, Tag Heuer and Workday in the weeks leading up to Melbourne. It’s not affected her tennis either, winning two of the last three slams. 4-0 in Grand Slam finals @naomiosaka | #AusOpen | #AO2021 pic.twitter.com/6eQFXDqmYD — #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 20, 2021 Her record is notable. She matched Monica Seles in winning the first four grand slam finals she has reached. The others to do so? Margaret Court, whose record Williams is still gunning for, on her way to 24 slam singles crowns in the 1960s and Roger Federer, who sits on 20. Naomi Osaka calls out Covid-19 ‘hate, racism and blame’ toward Asians No wonder she is being talked about alongside such tennis legends. Osaka dismissed it as “crazy”. “That’s very amazing company,” she said. “I hope that I can have, like, one grain of how their career has unfolded.” While the likes of Williams, Court and Federer are way off in the distance. Osaka has been tipped to reach double figures by tennis great Mats Wilander. Osaka said she is going for five, in response to that comment. https://twitter.com/AustralianOpen/status/1363086239876972544?s=20 “I’m taking it in sections. For right now, I’m trying to go for five,” Osaka said. “After five I would think about maybe dividing the 10, so maybe seven or eight. I don’t like to take things big-picture. For me, I like to live in the moment. “It’s an honour that he said that. But I don’t want to weigh myself down with pressure and expectations.” There are expectations, though, not least the Tokyo 2020 Olympics this summer where Osaka is expected to be the face of the Games and her commercial appeal will skyrocket. 20 for 2020: the sports stars who shone in a difficult year Short term, Osaka only has her eyes on the next slam, the French Open at Roland Garros, and a first win on clay. Then there’s Wimbledon and her home Olympics in the summer. “That’s my goal, to be consistent this year, not to have a huge drop- off randomly in the middle section like June, July, you know, how I usually do. “But, yeah, I don’t want to think too much about the rankings. It will come if I play well, and that’s what I tell myself.” View this post on Instagram A post shared by 大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) She is playing well, very well, and quietly becoming a bit of a legend. Fittingly, in the long term Osaka has ambitions to inspire like those who inspired her. “This is going to sound really odd, but hopefully I play long enough to play a girl that said that I was once her favourite player or something,” she said. “For me, I think that’s the coolest thing that could ever happen to me. I think I have those feelings of, you know, watching my favourite players. Osaka should play Paris – but not just for the chance to win “Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play Li Na, but, yeah, I just think that that’s how the sport moves forward.” Li was the first Asian to win a slam at Roland Garros in 2011 and then won in Melbourne in 2014. She presented Osaka with the trophy when Osaka won the Australian Open in 2019, becoming the first Japanese slam winner. Last year Li was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame and Osaka – the first Asian player to be singles No 1 – has to join her there one day, when she has hung up her signature Nike shoes. Osaka and Hamilton vow to carry on fight for social justice While she missed Li, she has played Serena, beating her in the controversial US Open final that marked Osaka’s accession to the elite and then again last Thursday to confirm it. There was an embrace at the net after the win that some saw as the proverbial passing of the torch. The minds of the money machines and marketers might have already moved on.