Osaka’s Encore


Naomi Osaka was born in Osaka, Japan. No joke. She gets tired of hearing the jokes, being asked the questions or dealing with the spotlight altogether. You might too if you were thrust into that spotlight the way Osaka was this past year… but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Truth be told, Naomi has a hard time simplifying where she’s from, so it makes sense that she hates the questions. Her father is Haitian. Her mother is Japanese. They met in Japan. Her mother’s father disapproved of her decision to marry a black man and drove them away. After Naomi was born, they moved to New York, then Florida for tennis, then this… All of this that’s happening so fast.

Naomi Osaka is one-of-a-kind, and as she takes over the tennis world major by major, we like her more and more. Few athletes have ever shown this unique combination of shyness, originality, and absolute fierce competitor. She wields her racquet like a weapon of destruction but handles interviews like a giant hug of authenticity.

She could wipe the floor with you in a 30-minute, two-set shutout and you’d still want to be her friend after. Don’t believe us? Watch her post-match interview from last night.

When a reporter once asked about her goals and ambitions at a press conference in 2016, Osaka paused to overthink her words as she often does, then quoted the Pokemon theme song: “To be the very best, like no one ever was.” As is customary at an Osaka interview, laughter ensued.

[But we digress. Back to that “thrust into the spotlight” stuff that’s relevant today.]

Back on September 8, the 20-year-old Osaka won her first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open. You might remember that day. She defeated Serena Williams, an upset for the ages, but it was Williams’ on-court dispute with chair umpire Carlos Ramos that stole the headlines.

Serena called Ramos a thief for taking away a crucial point in that match. In the end, it was Osaka who was robbed of her joy in the moment of her greatest achievement. Still, she handled it with grace and became the first-ever Japanese tennis player – men’s or women’s – to win a major, and the world was introduced to Naomi Osaka.

Osaka also won at Indiana Wells last spring, but a Grand Slam title at 20 years old? That put the world on notice, and that message is about to get a whole lot louder for a quiet Naomi.

On Saturday, she'll face Petra Kvitova for a shot at her second consecutive major championship. The last to win two straight majors? Serena Williams (2015).

For the next generation of women’s tennis, the road to major championships runs through Osaka, and it might for a long, long time. Lucky for us, that road will be paved with unforgettable sound bites from an unforgettable, unique athlete.

Justin Tangjanuary2019