LONDON: Japanese teenager Naomi Osaka wasn’t even born when Venus Williams made her Wimbledon debut 20 years ago, but she believes her life has been building towards the moment they meet on a tennis court.
That time will come on Friday when they clash for a place in the last-16 at the All England Club.
“I kind of feel like I have been preparing for this my whole life,” said Osaka, whose infectious conversation style is punctuated with liberal doses of ‘like’, ‘kind of’ and ‘stuff’.
“I was supposed to play her in Auckland (in 2016 when Williams withdrew injured). So unfortunately that didn’t happen.
“But I was kind of, like, prepared then. So I feel like maybe that was leading up to this.
“I’m really humbled to be able to come here from watching her on the TV.”
Osaka, born in Japan to a Haitian father and Japanese mother, left her homeland when she was three, the family settling in New York.
She now lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
This year, the 59th-ranked Osaka is making her debut at Wimbledon.
In stark contrast, 37-year-old Williams first appeared at the All England Club in 1997 — four months before Osaka was even born.
Like many of her generation, however, the Williams sisters were an inspiration for Osaka, although she admits Serena, missing from Wimbledon this year, to give birth to her first child, is the bigger idol.
“I’m kind of more of a Serena person. I mean, I like super love Venus, too, but Serena was, like, my No. 1,” said Osaka, who recalled supporting Serena when the American great had to scramble past Britain’s Heather Watson at Wimbledon two years ago.
“I was screaming at my TV, like, Come on, Serena, you can do it.
“I remember like when me and my sister used to train, like, at public courts and stuff, random people would be, like, Are you the next Venus and Serena? I feel like they had a great role in us growing up. I always wanted to be Serena.”
Osaka made the third round by seeing off Czech 22nd seed Barbora Strycova in three sets.
Now she hopes to get a date on Centre Court to face five-time champion Williams on Friday.
It would be her first visit to the famous arena and, come what may, it will provide her with fuel for her leisure-time love of photography.
“From the players’ restaurant, it has a really good view of all the other courts, and I think it’s really pretty,” she said when discussing the best place on site to snap a picture.
“It’s also the grass courts. They look really pretty from a high place. And I think they use the space really well.
“I feel like the courts are next to each other, but it’s really neatly organized.”