CI Shorts: Catching up with Naomi Osaka
[Photo by Haiti Communications Ministry].
At the start of this year, despite her win at the 2018 US Open, some outside the tennis world still said, “Naomi who?” But Naomi Osaka, despite being overshadowed in the US Open finals row between Serena Williams and the umpire, was on her way up in the crowded tennis stardom world.
Naomi Osaka was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father. While the sports media focused on her Japanese honours, Naomi was also acclaimed in her father’s country. She shot to attention outside the tennis world when Time magazine made her their early January cover.
The Time interview and feature said: “Tennis star Naomi Osaka doesn’t like attention. She’s about to get a ton of it.” Time quoted veteran sports marketer Bob Dorfman as saying: “She’s got American appeal, Caribbean appeal, Japanese appeal. As nationalities continue to mix in this world, that makes her even more desirable.”
Now Naomi has won the Australian Open and is ranked world number one in women's tennis in January 2019. Here are some things you might not know about Naomi Osaka:
- Naomi received a heroine’s welcome in November 2018 when she visited Haiti for the first time since her September US Open win. Haitian Foreign Affairs Minister Edomond Bocchit tweeted: “She is an inspiration for the young Haitian tennis players. Welcome, Bienvenue Naom.” She was given a tour of Haiti’s Olympic Sports Centre, while hundreds of children turned out to see her and she was presented with a plaque. Sports Minister Edwing Charles said: “The success of Naomi Osaka must challenge us as leaders to provide a better infrastructure for young people. Parents also have their role to play in motivating their children to become good at sports, like Naomi’s father did at a young age.”
- Naomi’s father, Leonard Francois, left Haiti to study in the US before moving to Japan. Naomi and her sister were born in Japan, then raised in the States when her family moved there. She told the New York-based Haitian Times that a visit to Haiti in the past had led to her improving her tennis game. ”I started appreciating everything and I didn’t want to complain about anything. Because when you go there and you see people, like, literally, they have to walk miles for water,” she told the Times.
- Since the US Open, Naomi has signed four sponsorship deals. Japan also honoured her with a set of newly-minted stamps, which were available until the end of 2018.
- Naomi finished the year on a career-ranking high of World Number 5. Her coach, Sascha Bajin, was hailed as coach of the year by the World Tennis Association (WTA).
- Just before the Australian Open, Japanese airline All Nippon Airways (ANA) announced a sponsorship agreement. Naomi, the first Japanese player to win the US Open, will wear the ANA logo on her tennis gear.
- Arriving refreshed in Australia, Naomi made her way through to the quarter-finals, tweeting photos of herself in action on the court and simply having a good time.
- The 21-year-old told the Australian Guardian that one of her biggest challenges was staying serious when being interviewed by the media. She told the paper: “I really admire the other players, who can go in there very serious and talk about things and don’t stray off their story. I feel like I do that a lot. I just feel like it would be better if I was more… serious. If, when someone asks me a question, if I could just focus on not joking, I think that would be great, because for some reason I can’t. With some of the journalists, I’ve known them for years now and I kind of consider them like my friends, so I always tend to joke around and some people don’t get it.”
- Naomi admits that stardom has still not caught up with her. She told India Today that she takes walks in Melbourne after her matches and that people do not recognise her. "I am a ghost. You don't see me," she said after her fourth-round win.
Caribbean Intelligence is following Naomi’s start-of-season experiences both on our new Twitter feed @Caribintelligen and on our Facebook page.