The tennis world has seen a number of promising female players make their way to the top spots of the WTA ranking in recent years. Japanese young star Naomi Osaka is one of them.
Having established herself among the best players on the planet, Osaka now aims to build on a great start to her career to continue writing history. She is still young, but Osaka has already done big things. Here, get to know her story.
Naomi Osaka is a female professional tennis player from Japan. She was born on October 16, 1997, in Osaka, Japan, to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother. Osaka rose to prominence in 2018, when she became the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam. That year, she beat her idol Serena Williams in the US Open Final. Osaka has also become the first Asian player to be world No. 1 in the rankings.
Naomi Osaka was born in Osaka City, Japan, on October 16, 1997 to a multicultural family—her father Leonard Francois is from Haiti, and her mother Tamaki from Japan. Naomi also has an older sister, Mari, born on April 3, 1996, also in Osaka.
Her parents met in the city of Sapporo in the 90s, but moved to the city of Osaka after tying the knot. They decided to give their girls Tamaki’s surname to make things easier for them in the country. The couple, however, eventually moved to the United States in January 2000, when Naomi was only three years old.
After living in Long Island, New York for a few years, the family moved to Florida in 2006. Inspired by Richard Williams, who helped the Williams sisters (Venus Williams and Serena Williams) become the world’s best players, Francois encouraged her girls to play tennis. Once they settled in Florida, Naomi and Mari practiced daytime tennis with their father and were homeschooled at night.
Mari showed early promise as a player but injuries slowed her career. On the other hand, Naomi was able to skip junior tournaments and turned professional in 2013.
Despite holding both Japanese and US citizenship, Naomi had to choose between one of the two nationalities before turning 22 in accordance with Japanese law. That’s when she opted to stay with her country of birth, which he represented throughout her career—something her father encouraged.
Naomi loves dogs, and has one named Panda. Apart from doing philanthropic work in Haiti—where her father was born—Naomi Osaka’s rise to stardom let her use her voice for activism.
In 2020, Osaka withdrew from the Cincinnati Open in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which included multiple protests against the police violence suffered by African Americans across the US during that summer.
The following month, Osaka showed up at the US Open with face masks displaying the names of African Americans who were victims of racially motivated violence.
Having won her first match on the WTA Tour in Stanford in 2014, Naomi Osaka climbed her way up on the rankings from a young age. She started to catch the world’s attention in 2016, making the round of 32 at three Grand Slams—Australian Open, French Open, and US Open. Osaka was later named Newcomer of the Year by the Women’s Tennis Association.
Her first WTA title came at Indian Wells in March 2018, but she won greater worldwide recognition a few months later. At the 2018 US Open Osaka would make a big name for herself, beating her lifelong idol Serena Williams in straight sets in the final.
Shortly after her victory at Flushing Meadows, Osaka emerged victorious at the 2019 Australian Open, becoming the first female player to win two Grand Slam titles in a row, since Serena Williams in 2015. With that triumph, she also became the first player in 18 years to win the next major after her first Grand Slam success.
On January 28, 2019, Osaka’s progress was reflected in the WTA world ranking, where she appeared at the No. 1 position for the first time. She led the ranking for 21 weeks, eventually being surpassed by Ashleigh Barty in June. However, the Japanese tennis star regained the top spot for two weeks in August.
That year, however, Osaka struggled with a knee injury that prevented her from going further in Wimbledon and the US Open. Even so, she went on to win in Osaka and Beijing.
Though the Covid-19 pandemic postponed the Tokyo Olympic Games she was looking forward to, Osaka picked up her second US Open title in 2020. In addition to her success on the court, she also became a leading activist for social justice.
Therefore, Osaka was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press.
Osaka claimed another Grand Slam title in February 2021, winning the second Australian Open in her career—beating Serena Williams in the semifinals.
After skipping press conferences, Osaka let everyone know she was withdrawing from the French Open due to mental health concerns. Osaka later opened up on that topic, saying she had suffered from long bouts of depression over the last three years.
Having skipped Wimbledon, she came back for the US Open but lost in the third round. After that tournament, Osaka took a four-month break. The Japanese player returned to action in 2022, but couldn’t make it far in the Grand Slams.
Naomi Osaka has seen plenty of success early in her career. Not only has she won Grand Slam championships, but the Japanese player has also been distinguished with other prestigious accolades.
Naomi Osaka has made an impact at a very young age, both on and off the court. Not only did she put her country on the tennis map—she has also raised awareness on a number of significant topics.
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