Naomi Osaka is ready to continue her rise in the tennis ranks. The 22-year-old star hasn't played in a major event since the Australian Open in January. However, she will return to action at the end of this month, as the US Open is set to kick off on Aug. 31 without fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And although the historic event without any spectators will add a different layer to the tournament, Osaka is excited to be competing against some of the best players in the world.
"I'm really looking forward to New York," Osaka said exclusively to PopCulture.com. "I think that time away has really made me realize how much I love the competition. It's what motivates me every day when I’m training. I can’t wait to be back." Osaka made a name for herself when she won the US Open in 2018, then going on to win the 2019 Australia Open, making her the first player since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to win her first two Grand Slam singles titles in back-to-back tournaments. But does that make her one of the favorites to win this year?
"I don’t go to a tournament without thinking that I have a chance to win," Osaka said. "I feel really good right now and am extremely focused. I'll miss the fans this year because I love the energy that you feel in big stadiums, but it's for the better and will make a return to play with fans that much more special."
In the 2019 US Open, Osaka lost in the fourth round to Belinda Bencic, dropping her world ranking from No. 1 to No. 4. However, she went on to win her next two tournaments to close out the year. In the latest WTA rankings, Osaka is ranked No. 10. These days, along with getting ready for the US Open, Osaka is preparing for the Summer Olympics, which will take place in Tokyo next year. Osaka will be representing Japan — something she always wanted to do.
"It's incredibly special to me and is something that I have been looking forward to doing for my whole life," she said. "I've represented Japan for my entire career and the Olympics will be the pinnacle so far. I very much identify with the culture and customs of Japan and am proud to have Japanese blood in me."
The US Open will be held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York. The matches will air on ESPN, and the tournament will end on Sept. 13.