MELBOURNE, Australia -- There is a man who has been instrumental in the rise of Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka -- who is now just a step away from her first Australian Open Women's Singles victory and a World No. 1 ranking -- but is rarely thrust into the limelight.
American fitness trainer Abdul Sillah, 43, is a master coach who has worked with the likes of U.S. tennis player Serena Williams, who was formerly ranked No. 1 in the world with 23 total Grand Slam victories. Now Sillah is helping Osaka reach her full potential at a furious speed.
Osaka will be facing off with the Czech Republic's eighth-seeded Petra Kvitova at the Australian Open's Women's Singles final in Melbourne at 7:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. Japan time) on Jan. 26. The day before, Osaka did some exercises in the searing heat on the outdoor court, with Sillah right by her side.
In this tournament, Osaka appears to have been dominating in rallies that swung from the left side of the court to the right. Sillah explained that during the off season he helped Osaka work on losing weight, incorporating running and training at the gym into her workouts. Sillah described the training program as extremely tough, and said that the ideal they were trying to pursue was to make Osaka a "sprinter" on the court.
Osaka, who the Japanese public may perceive as being free-spirited, is at her core a perfectionist, and followed through with the tough training program that Sillah put her on. She hasn't disclosed how much weight she's lost, but when she made a comeback victory in the fourth round of the Australian Open after initially struggling in the match, she expressed her gratitude for Sillah, saying that he helped her believe that she could make it through long games.
Sillah says that in the future, he wants to help Osaka transform her body into one that has the characteristics of the top three male tennis players: the precision of Serbia's Novak Djokovic, the aggressiveness of Spain's Rafael Nadal and the astuteness of Switzerland's Roger Federer.
It sounds like a grandiose plan, but according to Sillah, Osaka's strength is that she has the sponge-like ability to absorb new technical and mental skills. For her, it seems the sky is the limit.
(Japanese original by Ryuichi Arai, Osaka Sports News Department)