Everything to Know About Newly Crowned 20-Year-Old U.S. Open Champion Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka became $3.8 million richer after her historic win against childhood hero Serena Williams
With her victory, the 20-year-old athlete became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam and officially made herself $3.8 million richer after the historic win.
While the game has been shrouded in scandal after Williams called out sexism in their sport, Osaka has been garnering widespread attention and admiration from both the United States fans, as well as those in her home country.
The 5-foot-11 star is the youngest woman in the world’s Top 20 and Japan’s highest-ranked female player in more than a decade.
Here are seven things to know about the player on the rise.
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Though born in Japan, Osaka has lived in the U.S. since she was 3.
“I grew up in New York until I was 8 or 9 and then I moved to Florida,” she previously said.
Though she was primarily raised in the States, she represents Japan — a decision made by her father Leonard Maxime Francois when his daughter turned pro in 2013.
Osaka’s dual citizenship meant that she had a choice between playing for either country but Francois chose Japan, thinking it would open up more opportunities for her.
Francois was Haitian by birth and one of only a handful of black men in Hokkaido, Japan, where he visited after studying at New York University. He later met wife Tamaki Osaka but their relationship was not approved by her conservative family.
Osaka’s father accused her of bringing disgrace on the family when he learned that she was dating a black foreigner, according to a New York Times profile published in August.
The couple moved to Osaka, Japan’s second largest city and the same name as Tamaki’s surname.
“Everyone who was born in Osaka, their last name is Osaka,” Naomi joked with reporters during a U.S. Open press conference.
Naomi and older sister Mari, who is also a professional tennis athlete, took their mother’s last name instead of Francois’ to assimilate in Japan. “It was mostly a practical matter when they lived in Japan, helpful for enrolling in schools and renting apartments,” the family told the Times.
Admittedly Far from Fluent
Though she can understand Japanese during conversations with her loved ones and those in her inner circle, Osaka has regularly used English as her way to communicate with the media.
“I can understand way more Japanese than I can speak. And when I go to Japan people are confused. From my name, they don’t expect to see a black girl,” Osaka told USA Today Sports in January 2016.
“I never know what to do when someone asks me where I’m from. I just say FL, because saying Japan starts an unnecessary conversation,” Osaka tweeted in May 2017.
Also in her Times interview, she explained why it’s important to redefine what it means to be Japanese today.
“It’s interesting. I feel there’s not really anybody like me. It seems like more of a challenge being from Japan. I never thought about the American competition [in tennis]. I just thought about playing tennis,” Osaka said of being biracial.
Following in Serena’s Footsteps
At age 20, Osaka was able to cross off one of her biggest bucket list items: playing (and defeating) her childhood hero, whom she once wrote a 3rd-grade report about.
Not only was the U.S. Open a big deal for her, it was also a monumental moment for her father Francois, who trained Osaka from age 3, and hired coach Sascha Bajin, best known for working as Williams’ hitting partner for eight years.
Francois also took inspiration from Williams’ father, Richard, in training his two daughters. “The blueprint was already there. I just had to follow it,” Francois told the Times.
Williams previously praised Osaka. “She’s really young and really aggressive. She’s a really good, talented player. Very dangerous,” Williams said at the Australian Open in 2016.
After Naomi’s mother Tamaki became estranged from her Japanese family when she married and moved away with Francois. After 15 years, following the births of Mari and Naomi, the family reconnected and went to Japan to meet one another but Tamaki’s parents disapproved of how the girls were homeschooled to focus on their tennis careers, according to the Times profile.
However, Naomi’s status as a rising star in tennis caught the attention of her grandparents.
“I was simply stunned. I didn’t expect her to become the champion,” grandfather Tetsuo told Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun about Naomi’s U.S. Open victory.
In fact, Naomi called him after beating Williams. “She said, ‘I did it,’ and I said, ‘You did a great job,’ ” said the 73-year-old, whose family continues to struggle with unstable power supply and food shortages due to the 6.7 earthquake that rocked Hokkaido on Sept. 6.
Naomi will be returning to Japan to play in the Toray Pan Pacific Open Tennis Tournament in Tokyo, which starts on Sept. 17. Tetsuo plans to travel to Tokyo to cheer on his granddaughter.
Hobbies Off the Court
In addition to being a big fan of Beyoncé, she’s also a big fan of video games.
In July, Osaka shared a photo of herself and sister Mari, who is one year older, at the finals of the e-sports tournament Overwatch League, which was held in Brooklyn’s Barclays Centre this year.
The Overwatch League is a professional tournament held for the video game Overwatch.
With a multicultural background and a furious forearm, Osaka is well positioned to become an international celebrity. And she has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
In 2016, she opened up about her career goals, telling the BBC, “To be the very best, like no one ever was,” even jokingly adding, “That’s a Pokemon quote, I’m sorry. That’s the Pokemon theme song.”
And when asked why she had so many fans cheering her on at the Australian Open that same year, she explained: “Probably because they think I’m interesting. Maybe it’s because they can’t really pinpoint what I am, so it’s like anybody can cheer for me.”