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Japan’s celebrations rocket into orbit as Osaka’s win takes off

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This hand out photo released by the Tennis Australia on February 20, 2021 shows Japan’s Naomi Osaka gives autographs to her fans after winning her women’s singles final match against Jennifer Brady of the US on day thirteen of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. AFP

Tokyo, Japan (AFP) – Japan’s celebrations for Naomi Osaka’s fourth Grand Slam title went into orbit Saturday, with an astronaut tweeting congratulations from the International Space Station.

Osaka’s 6-4, 6-3 triumph over America’s Jennifer Brady in the Australian Open final was hailed in Japan, and beyond, as astronaut Soichi Noguchi wrote from space “Naomi Osaka, congratulations on the victory,” with a gold-medal emoji.

Japan’s media said it brought prospects of a gold medal at the coronavirus-delayed Tokyo Olympics  “a big step closer”.

At a large pub in the Japanese capital, there was no roar of celebration but plenty of excitement from fans at socially distanced tables.

“She was perfect. I expected her to win this game, because she won against Serena (Williams), and that was a good performance,” said Moeko, 40, describing herself as the Japanese player’s “biggest fan”.

“She is such a great player, and such a good person,” Moeko, a cheerleading coach, told AFP.

Major broadcasters flashed news of the 23-year-old’s latest Grand Slam win, which added to victories at the 2018 US Open, the 2019 Australian Open and the 2020 US Open.

“Osaka got a big step closer to winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics,” the Nikkan Sports daily said of the player, who is a leading face of the Games in her home nation.

“The Australian victory is a barometer for the gold medal” at the Tokyo Games, where tennis matches are played on the same type of court, the newspaper said — calling Osaka “the queen of hard courts.”

Osaka has said she is still keen to compete at the Tokyo Olympics, which were delayed by one year by the pandemic and are due to open in July.

“It wasn’t easy to prepare during the coronavirus pandemic, but she played excellently,” said Kenichiro Yamanishi, chair of the Japan Tennis Association.

“The season has just begun ahead of the Tokyo Olympics this summer. I am looking forward to an even greater performance,” Yamanishi said.

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