PARIS, May 22: Twelve months ago at Roland Garros, an embarrassed Naomi Osaka bristled at being hailed as the �coolest thing� in tennis.
Now, however, the 21-year-old Japanese returns to Paris as comfortably the sport�s hottest ticket with the World No. 1 billing, a bank balance bursting at the seams and on the brink of a third successive Grand Slam title.
�The one word that comes to my mind is amazing,� says Osaka�s older sister Mari, a fellow tour player.
�I�m really proud of her.�
Naomi Osaka was seeded at a Grand Slam for the first time at the 2018 French Open when she made the third round, countering claims she was the �coolest thing in tennis� by asserting she was the sport�s �most awkward person�.
But it was the razzle-dazzle of New York � helped by a mega-meltdown by Serena Williams � which propelled her to a maiden Slam triumph in September.
That was backed up by a second major at the Australian Open, her status as the face of the new generation of women�s tennis comfortably confirmed.
Osaka, the daughter of a Haitian father and Japanese mother, has since been signed up by Nike in a deal reportedly worth in the region of USD 10 million a year.
Despite being based full-time in the United States and still often struggling with the Japanese language, sponsors from home have come calling � from an airline and car-maker to a noodle company and detergent manufacturer.
In Japan, her coy personality and breezy news conferences have made her into a media darling. � AFP