Did you watch the women’s final of the US Open on Saturday? I watched it all and became a huge fan of Naomi Osaka. She played against Serena with grit, focus and power.

She outplayed and defeated her hero, the hero she had dreamed of playing from the time she was a child, the hero who had provided her the motivation to work hard to become the very best she could be.

While her tennis against Serena and Madison Keys in the semi-finals was awesome, I was more impressed by her grace, authenticity and humility in victory.

You may have read or heard that in third grade she did a report for school about Serena including drawing a picture of her and coloring it in.

You may have heard or read about her post match interview:

“Your question is making me emotional,” said Osaka, when she was asked to explain her podium apology at her post-match press conference.

“Because I know she really wanted to have the 24th Grand Slam, right? Everyone knows this. It’s on the commercials, it’s everywhere.

“When I step onto the court, I feel like a different person. I’m not a Serena fan. I’m just a tennis player playing another tennis player.

“But then when I hugged her at the net (tearing up) … when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again.”

I read many, many articles about Naomi and her victory. This one struck a chord with me. Japanese hail a ‘humble and serene’ Naomi.

The Japanese public have also been charmed by Osaka’s off-court humility and genuineness as much as her on-court ferocity.

Yesterday morning, I watched her interview on the Today Show and talked about how it felt to play the title match after writing her third grade paper and having watched her win grand slam matches before.

Having Heroes Motivated Me

When I was a kid growing up in Lombard, IL, I played baseball, basketball and football. I idolized players in each sport and imitated their motions.

Our next door neighbor had a chicken coop. He allowed me to draw a strike zone on the back that faced our yard. With a red rubber ball I did my best Early Wynn (White Sox pitcher) imitation. I also became each of the White Sox infielders catching ground balls and throwing to first.

If you looked at photos of our vacation the summer I was 10 years old you would see in every photo I had on a White Sox hat and a big wad of Topps baseball card gum in my mouth, wanting to look like the White Sox second baseman, Nellie Fox.

When I played the outfield, I tried to imitate my hero, Willie Mays.

Sometime when I was young my dad put up a basketball hoop for me. I shot baskets year round, including in the winter in the snow with gloves on. I tried to shoot jump shots like Jerry West and layups like Elgin Baylor.

In football, I wanted to be like Johnny Unitas. I even tried to have a flat top like he had. My only problem was my hair was so curly, instead of standing straight up it went all over the place.

In my dreams, I never thought about playing with or against my heroes. In my real life, I never played professional sports and only got as far as freshman basketball and baseball at Virginia Tech.

But, trying to be like my heroes taught me something that turned out to be far more valuable. I set high goals and worked hard to achieve them. It was the journey that became important in my life.

When I decided to become a lawyer, I had heroes. They were lawyers like Clarence Darrow, Earl Rogers, Louis Nizer, and F. Lee Bailey. I read books about them. (I still have many of the books). I worked hard to become as good as they had been. I doubt I ever achieved it. But, my desire to achieve goals and hard work served me well.

Did you have heroes when you grew up?  Did they motivate you to strive to become better than you thought you could be?