By Alison Williams
LONDON (Reuters) – Japanese teenager Naomi Osaka is humbled to be facing Venus Williams at Wimbledon, even if it was the American’s younger sister she wanted to emulate when she was growing up.
The 19-year-old put out Czech 22nd seed Barbora Strycova 6-1 0-6 6-4 on Wednesday to set up Friday’s third round clash with the five-times champion, who, at 37, is the oldest woman in the field.
“I kind of feel like I have been preparing for this my whole life,” Osaka, ranked 59, told reporters.
“Playing her on a surface which is one of her best at a tournament which is one of her best, I’m really humbled to be able to come here from watching her on the TV.”
The American 10th seed, who beat China’s Wang Qiang 4-6 6-4 6-1 on Wednesday, began her Wimbledon career in June 1997, almost four months before Osaka was born.
“I have seen her play before. I think we play a really similar game,” Venus told reporters.
“I hope that my experience will help me to play that game that we play better.”
That Venus had spoken about her in her news conference was dizzying enough for Osaka.
“I’m kind of honored, because I don’t think I would have started playing if Venus and Serena weren’t there for me growing up,” she said.
“I mean, it’s kind of weird to hear that she, like, maybe she even talked about me.”
For all her admiration for Venus, however, Osaka has always modeled herself on 23-times grand slam champion Serena.
“I’m kind of more of a Serena person. I mean, I like super love Venus, too, but Serena was my number one,” said Osaka, whose older sister Mari is also a tennis player.
“I remember when me and my sister used to train 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.”
As for Venus, how was she going to deal with the challenge of playing Osaka? For her it was simple: “Win more points.”
(Reporting by Alison Williams, editing by Nick Mulvenney)