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Tennis: Osaka wants to inspire new generation, says Serena remains the queen

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Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka said she felt comfortable being a role model for the next generation after her fourth Grand Slam victory solidified her position at the forefront of a new era for tennis.

But the Japanese star, a four-time major-winner at the age of just 23, insisted America’s Serena Williams, 39 — who has 23 Slam crowns — remains the face of the women’s game.

Osaka beat America’s Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-3 in the Australian Open final on Saturday to win her fourth Slam from the last eight in which she has played, and extend her year-plus winning streak to 21 matches.

She joins Monica Seles and Roger Federer in winning her first four major finals, and will move up to second in the world rankings.

Her sweeping triumph was viewed as heralding a shift in women’s tennis with Australia’s Fed Cup captain Alicia Molik declaring it a “changing of the guard”, while the New Yorker said Osaka was the “most thrilling athlete of her generation”.

Osaka brushed aside Williams in the semis, after also beating her in the stormy 2018 US Open final to win her first major.

But when asked if she was now taking over from Williams as the game’s leading light, Osaka replied: “No, not at all,” adding that she simply wanted to remain true to herself.

“I have learned on-and-off the court it’s okay to not be sure about yourself,” she said.

“I’m more at peace with where I am, and I’m honestly just happy to be playing a Grand Slam in a pandemic.”

Growing as a person

After winning her second Australian Open title, Osaka spent a lengthy time signing autographs for fans in a gesture that received widespread applause on social media.

Having once grappled with fame as a shy youngster, a content Osaka said she was still “growing as a person” but hoped to provide inspiration to young players.

“In the past I felt it as a very strong responsibility, and I was also very scared and nervous of it,” she said.

“It’s a really big honour that there are little kids that like me, that come to my matches and cheer for me.

“But at the same time, I don’t weigh it too heavily on myself.”

A more mature Osaka, who says she gained greater perspective during tennis’s coronavirus shutdown, said she now appreciated the difficulty of winning a Grand Slam.

“I feel like I know how much hard work you have to put into this, because the first time that I have won both these trophies I think, in a way, I was just a kid,” she said, referring to her wins at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing.”

Her win prompted celebrations in Japan, where she will play the Tokyo Olympics this year, while Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi tweeted his congratulations from the International Space Station.

“There are many Japanese fans who are very excited now that Naomi has won the Australian Open,” Japan’s 58th-ranked Yoshihito Nishioka told AFP ahead of next week’s ATP Singapore Open.

“I’m sure they will be following the progress of Japanese players in more tennis tournaments around the world.”

But Osaka said her biggest goal wasn’t Grand Slam titles, an Olympic medal or returning to world number one.

“I feel like the biggest thing that I want to achieve is… hopefully I play long enough to play a girl that said that I was once her favourite player,” she said.

“For me, I think that’s the coolest thing that could ever happen to me… Unfortunately I didn’t get to play Li Na, but, I just think that that’s how the sport moves forward.”

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PHOTOS: Nigeria dazzles in Tokyo Olympic opening parade

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Arsenal agree £50m deal for Brighton’s defender

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Arsenal has agreed on a deal in principle for the £50m transfer of Brighton & Hove Albion defender Ben White.

White was a late call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England Euro 2020 squad.

It completes a meteoric rise for the 23-year-old, who was released by Southampton as a youngster before being signed by Brighton.

He went on a number of loans from the Seagulls, including to Leeds’ Championship title-winning side in 2019-20.

White’s performances for Leeds attracted the attention of many leading clubs and prompted Brighton to secure him on a new four-year contract last summer.

That deal put the Seagulls in a strong negotiating position this summer and it is understood they rejected two bids from the Gunners before agreement was finally reached amid interest from other Premier League clubs.

White is on holiday so the transfer, including his medical, will not be completed until he returns.

The transfer comes as Arsenal part ways with Brazil defender David Luiz after his contract expired.

The Gunners have also signed 21-year-old left-back Nuno Tavares from Benfica for £8m this summer.

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Messi to sign new five-year Barcelona contract, take 50% wage cut

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Lionel Messi will sign a new five-year contract at Barcelona and take an incredible 50 per cent wage cut, Goal can confirm.
Messi has spent his entire career to date on Barca’s books, having initially made his debut for the club as a teenager in 2004, but dropped into the free agency pool at the start of July after reaching the end of his contract.
The Argentine won’t be embarking on a new challenge away from Camp Nou anytime soon, though, with the Blaugrana set to announce that they have tied the six-time Ballon d’Or winner down to a fresh long-term deal.
Messi earned a staggering €550 million (£468m/$650m) over the course of his last five-year contract at Camp Nou, which equates to around €75m (£64m/$89m) per season.
However, Barca were unable to hand the 34-year-old similarly lucrative renewal terms after exceeding La Liga’s wage limit at the end of the 2020-21 campaign .
League president Javier Tebas warned that the Blaugrana could not legally register Messi without significantly reducing their salary costs, with the likes of Junior Firpo, Jean-Clair Todibo, Carles Alena and Juan Miranda all subsequently sold to raise extra funds.
Messi has also agreed to halve his yearly earnings in order to re-sign for Barca, and Goal has learned that they will formally announce his new contract in the coming weeks after a few minor details are finalised.
Did Messi have any other offers on the table?
Messi became available on a free transfer upon the expiration of his last deal, and it has been reported that the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Inter have all shown an interest in signing the Argentina international.
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A possible return to boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys was also mooted, along with a potential foray into MLS with David Beckham-owned franchise Inter Miami.
Goal understands that Messi received several formal offers, including an attractive proposal from PSG, but he ultimately decided to remain a one-club man and continue playing for Barca until 2026 – at which point he will be 39 years of age.
-Goal

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