Who is Naomi Osaka?
Naomi Osaka is a Japanese professional tennis player who has won four Grand Slam singles titles so far—two US Open and two Australian Open. Born in Japan and raised in America, she won her first Grand Slam by defeating her idol Serena Williams in the finals of US Open in 2018 and became the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles title. She has been named the highest-earning female athlete of all time by Forbes for two straight years. Known for her activism and her support for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, she was named one of the ‘2020 Sports Illustrated Sportspersons of the Year’ and has been included on Time's annual list of the 100 most influential people twice.
Childhood & Early Life
Naomi Osaka was born on October 16, 1997, in Chūō-ku, Osaka, Japan to Haitian father Leonard François and Japanese mother Tamaki Osaka. Her maternal grandparents did not accept her parents’ relationship, because of which the family moved to the United States and settled in Valley Stream, New York on Long Island when she was three.
Despite having little experience, her father was inspired to train her and her older sister Mari in tennis after witnessing how Richard Williams did so successfully with his daughters Serena and Venus. He diligently followed the “blueprint” laid out by Williams to train his two daughters from an early age and even moved the family to Florida in 2006 to allow them better opportunities.
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Naomi Osaka, who never competed on the ITF Junior Circuit and debuted on the ITF Women's Circuit on her 14th birthday in October 2011, lost in the finals four times at the ITF level. After turning professional in September 2013, she went on to win her debut match at the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) main draw at the 2014 Stanford Classic against former US Open Champion Samantha Stosur.
She climbed upwards in ranking despite failing to win another WTA main draw in 2015 and earned a career breakthrough at the 2016 Pan Pacific Open, reaching her first WTA final at 18. While she lost in the final to Caroline Wozniacki, she entered top 50 of the WTA rankings and was named the ‘WTA Newcomer of the Year’.
2017 was a not a very good year for Naomi Osaka; she failed to win more than two main draw matches at any event all year. However, she bounced back the following year, clinching the Indian Wells Open title by defeating two top 10 opponents, including the then No.1 player Simona Halep.
She played against and defeated her childhood idol Serena Williams in the first round of the Miami Open in March 2018. Later that year, she again defeated Williams at the US Open final to win her first Grand Slam title and became the first Japanese Grand Slam singles champion.
After ending 2018 as No.4 in the WTA rankings, Naomi Osaka became the first Asian player to reach world No.1 on January 28, 2019 after winning the Australian Open by defeating Petra Kvitová. With this win, she matched Serena Williams’ consecutive Grand Slam singles titles record, but struggled for the rest of the year before eventually withdrawing from the WTA Finals because of injury.
Despite subpar performances in the Brisbane International and the Australian Open before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, Osaka reached the finals of the Cincinnati Open and the US Open once the tour resumed, in 2020. She faced Victoria Azarenka both times, and while she defaulted in the finals of Cincinnati Open due to hamstring injury, she was able to secure her second US Open title in three years.
In 2021, she secured her second Australian Open title and fourth Grand Slam in four years by defeating Serena Williams in the semifinals and Jennifer Brady in the final. After withdrawing from the 2021 French Open and skipping the Wimbledon Championships, she appeared at the Tokyo Olympic Games, but made a shock exit in the 3rd round of the games.
Awards & Achievements
Naomi Osaka, who has won four Grand Slams in consecutive years, is the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles title and the first Asian to achieve top WTA ranking.
Personal Life & Legacy
While Naomi Osaka is a reserved person, she is well-known for her activism and has expressed her opinion regarding issues such as racism, police brutality, and hate crime several times in the past.
In 2020, she temporarily withdrew from the Cincinnati Open to protest against the police shooting of Jacob Blake and played each match at the US Open wearing masks with the name of a killed African-American.
She is in a relationship with Grammy-nominated American rapper YBN Cordae, whom she first met in person at a Los Angeles Clippers basketball game after interacting on phone. Cordae, who knew nothing about tennis except for the names of the two Williams sisters before meeting Osaka, now regularly attends her matches to support her.
Naomi Osaka, who was also an American citizen until turning 22, opted for only Japanese citizenship in October 2019 to comply with a Japanese law. While she was chosen for lighting the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony in Tokyo, many questioned her qualification to represent the racially homogeneous country after she failed to win a medal.