OSAKA – In the wake of Naomi Osaka’s success in the US Open Tennis Championships in September to become Japan’s first singles Grand Slam champion, the number of children who have signed up for lessons at her former tennis school has surged, and there has been a boom in the sale of goods linked to the rising star.
“There are sometimes more people than the capacity for trial lessons. So some of them put their names on a waiting list depending on the day,” said Kuniko Nakamura, a 44-year-old assistant manager with a group that operates Utsubo Tennis Center in Nishi Ward in Japan’s second largest city. Osaka used to come to the facility to practice playing tennis with her family members before they emigrated to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.
The tennis boom began right after Osaka’s victory on Sept. 8 (Sept. 9 Japan time). While the center previously received just a few inquiries a day, “The number of queries has increased about threefold,” said Nakamura. One day the facility received as many as 20 inquiries about lessons.
Natsumi Uemura, a 5-year-old girl who lives near the center, will take part in a trial lesson there in November. After she watched news programs that covered Osaka’s victory in the US Open at home, Natsumi told her 41-year-old mother Harumi that she wanted to become a professional tennis player. Natsumi smiled and said, “I want to hit strong smashes like Osaka.”
“We would like to raise another star from our tennis courts,” Nakamura added.
Moreover, Osaka’s spectacular success has driven a boom in the sale of tennis rackets and wristwatches used by the champion.
Major sports goods manufacturer Yonex Co. has received many orders for its “EZONE 98” tennis racket — an enhanced version of which Osaka uses — from shops around Japan. Sales of the racket the week right after her victory were about four times more than those in the previous week. The racket has a suggested retail price of 33,000 yen, excluding tax. A public relations official at the company said, “We’ve had more sales than we expected. We made quick arrangements to increase production of the racket.”
Meanwhile, an official with Citizen Watch Co., the major manufacturer that appointed Osaka as an ambassador for the brand in August, said, “We are grateful for Osaka’s huge influence.” On Sept. 14 the company began selling the wristwatch “Eco-Drive Bluetooth” that Osaka wore in the US Open final, but stocks from the first shipment have already sold out so the company is producing more of the watches.
The Japan Tennis Association (JTA) expects Osaka’s success to boost the number of tennis players around the country. According to the JTA, the number of tennis players aged 10 and older in Japan was 4.39 million as of 2016. After Kei Nishikori became the runner-up in the men’s singles at the US Open Tennis Championships in 2014, tennis saw a resurgence in its popularity. Yet despite this boom, the number of players is still 200,000 less than the figure from 10 years ago.
JTA’s Executive Director Hajime Takahashi, 71, said, “Osaka is a savior for women’s tennis in Japan as there had been no star player for a while. We hope the number of tennis players increases.”