Naomi Osaka strikes a tennis ball and it flies across the tennis court at 200 kilometres an hour. Known for her powerful serve, Naomi at twenty-three is the world’s No.1 ranked female tennis player. Although she has lived in the US for most of her life, she is a Japanese citizen and represents Japan in the sport.
From Japan to the US
Born in the city of Osaka in Japan, Naomi has a Haitian father called Leonard, a Japanese mother called Tamaki, and an older sister called Mari. When Naomi was three, she and her family moved to Long Island, New York, to live with her father’s parents. Inspired by the story of US tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, who were trained by their father from a young age, Leonard decided to teach his daughters how to play tennis too.
Becoming a tennis star
In 2006, the family moved to Florida, because the training opportunities were better there. The girls trained in the day and were home-schooled at night. Then, in 2013, Naomi became a professional tennis player.
2018 was an important year for her. In the final of the US Open in September, she defeated former champion Serena Williams, becoming the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles title. The next year, she won the Australian Open, and became the first Asian player to be ranked No.1.
Many people consider Naomi a hero, not just because of her success in tennis but also because of her activism. A supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, Naomi withdrew from the Cincinnati Open last year in protest against the shooting of a black man named Jacob Blake by a police officer. And at the 2020 US Open, she wore a different mask each day with the name of a black person who had been killed, in many cases by the police.
This year, Naomi found herself at the centre of controversy after refusing to participate in mandatory press conferences at the 2021 French Open for mental health reasons, and being fined as a result. She subsequently withdrew from the competition and wrote an article for Time magazine called “It’s O.K. Not to Be O.K.,” about mental health, the media, and the need for the sports industry to prioritise the mental health of athletes.