After claiming the 2021 Australian Open title, Naomi Osaka said she wanted to inspire young girls around the world – with the hope of perhaps one day even playing against one of her fans.
And just days out from her latest grand slam victory, it appears the Japanese star is already doing just that.
Osaka proved without a shadow of a doubt that she is the successor to Serena Williams as the queen of women’s tennis after staving off a first set challenge from Jennifer Brady to win the Australian Open final 6-4 6-3.
Osaka’s zany acceptance speech
Reflecting on her triumph at Melbourne Park five days ago, Osaka noticed a ball girl in the background of a particular photo taken during the final on Rod Laver Arena.
In the snap, Australian teenager Marle van der Merwe is seen overcome with delight as Osaka celebrated her victory, and the world No. 2 couldn’t resist sharing the image on social media.
“Was looking at pics from AO and I just noticed the ball girl in this … hi,” Osaka posted to Twitter with a love heart and waving emoji.
The moment was captured by Australian photographer Quinn Rooney from Getty Images.
Osaka’s post quickly acquired more than 39,000 likes and 2500 retweets.
ABC journalist Lisa Miller tweeted: “Wherever this ball girl is right now in Melbourne I’m hoping someone is excitedly showing her this tweet.”
Marle was shocked when she spotted the tweet during her school lunch break on Thursday, telling The Herald Sun: “It was very special – no player ever does that.
“I was with my friends at lunch and saw the link. Mum just sent me the link to the Twitter post she made and I clicked on it and was pretty shocked.”
Osaka was also heralded for how generous with her time she was toward fans, coming back out on court after her victory to sign countless autographs and take snaps with her adoring crowd.
“That’s great. Naomi’s out there signing every autograph,” WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen tweeted. “Ran back out after walking into the tunnel.”
Sports reporter Sam Landsberger tweeted: “Before leaving Rod Laver Arena Naomi Osaka goes right, left, up the tunnel, and then doubles back to sign 36 autographs in total.
“Tennis balls, programs, tickets, hats, paper fans … nobody missed out. She even posed for photos and threw balls back to fans. Class.”