Naomi Osaka started playing tennis at the age of 3. She grew up in the United States but holds Japanese citizenship and represents Japan on the court (her mother is from Japan, her father from Haiti). Osaka boasts a 120 mile per hour serve, was the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam title, and became the first Asian tennis player to hold the world’s No. 1 rank.
She was born in Japan, and with a Japanese mother and Haitian father as your parents, life was not going to be easy. Her last name was taken from her mother to help ease the pain the world will inflict on her and her sister while living in Japan, but this pain will only make Osaka stronger and more determined to make her mark on the world.
After seeing Venus and Serena Williams at the French Open in 1999 and learning how their father had trained them, Francois (her Father) was inspired to follow a similar path with his daughters. When Osaka was 3 her family left Japan for the United States. They settled in Long Island with her father’s parents, and she and her sister began playing tennis. In 2006 the family moved to Florida, where the girls practiced tennis during the day with their father. In New York they’d attended public school but now they were homeschooled at night. Osaka’s mother worked to support the family during this time.
Following the path set by Venus and Serena. She turned pro in 2013 and in 2016 was selected as “Newcomer of the Year” by the Women’s Tennis Association. Her first WTA tour win came at Indian Wells, California, in March 2018. Osaka then triumphed at the U.S. Open in September 2018, making her the first Japanese player to nab a Grand Slam title. She came out on top at the Australian Open in January 2019, becoming the first player since 2001 to win the following major title after her first Grand Slam win. That victory also gave Osaka the world’s No. 1 ranking, a first for any Asian player, male or female.
Her victories and awards are endless, but it’s her fight off the court that makes her special and a step ahead of most. Japan is a racially homogenous country where mixed-race children have been called “hafu,” meaning “half,” and have faced discrimination. “When I go to Japan people are confused,” she stated. “From my name, they don’t expect to see a Black girl.” Yet people in Japan have largely come to embrace Osaka