The Haitian backbone behind the new world number one tennis player Naomi Osaka

Mildred Europa Taylor January 29, 2019
The Haitian man behind the new world number one tennis player Naomi Osaka. Pic credit: Fox

Following her shocking win against Serena Williams at the 2018 U.S. Open, tennis star, Naomi Osaka, on Saturday won her second Grand Slam after beating Petra Kivitova at the Australian Open.

The 21-year-old, who is the youngest number one player since 2010, has become the world’s top-ranked athlete in women’s tennis after her victory over the weekend.

Born in Osaka to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, Osaka moved to the United States at the age of three with her family, and she currently lives in Florida.

At the age of 16, she rose to prominence and qualified for her first Grand Slam in 2016 at the Australian Open.

But the female star, who has chalked huge successes in her career has her father, Leonard Francois, to thank for.

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Naomi Osaka. Pic credit: Twitter

Francois, while watching the French Open in 1999, got fascinated by the skills exhibited by sisters Venus and Serena Williams, who were just 18 and 17 respectively – and would later win the women’s doubles title during that year.

Francois, from the game, also learned that their father, Richard Williams, doubles as their trainer even though he had never played tennis. Wanting the same sports stardom for his daughters, Francois, who had played little tennis, came up with a plan to turn his girls into champions.

In 2006, he relocated the family from Long Island to Florida and soon began training his daughters – Naomi and Mari – full time during the day, mostly on outdoor clay courts while they homeschooled at night.

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Naomi Osaka and her father. Pic credit:

According to The New York Times, Francois’ training plan included instructional books, DVDs, and making his two daughters hit thousands of balls every day.

Naomi didn’t initially like the idea but the thought of playing with her big sister encouraged her.

“I don’t remember liking to hit the ball. The main thing was that I wanted to beat my sister. For her, it wasn’t a competition, but for me, every day was a competition. Every day I’d say, ‘I’m going to beat you tomorrow,’” she told the New York Times in an interview.

The girls started developing their talents in tennis, but their grandparents (from their mother’s side) didn’t like the idea and thought they should opt for a better profession.

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Naomi and her family. Pic credit: Twitter

The girls were unperturbed. With their father’s help, they took their training seriously and soon started competing against older players on the pro satellite tours, the New York Times report said.

“With a growth spurt in her early teens, Naomi soon towered over Mari. Video clips of the girls’ matches and training began circulating among coaches and agents, but neither sister had an impressive junior ranking or much tournament experience. The United States Tennis Association showed little interest in helping them develop,” the report added.

Although the girls have lived in Florida since their tender ages, Francois decided to have his daughters play for Japan, where they were born, and this was largely due to funding.

Reports said the Japan Tennis Federation had more funding to give the girls so they opted to represent it over the United States. This decision has had its consequences, especially in Osaka’s career and the way people perceive her, both in Japan and the U.S.

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Naomi Osaka and her parents. Pic credit:

Even though her surname, Osaka, is Japanese, many were surprised when they realized that she is also half black.

“Osaka” is the name of the city where the tennis star was born and her mother’s maiden name as well. She uses Osaka because “it was mostly a practical matter when they lived in Japan, helpful for enrolling in schools and renting apartments.”

Analysts believe that Osaka, who is now a top Japanese athlete, will experience an increase in the size of her endorsement deals ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Her Haitian-born father would also certainly be pleased that his hard work has not been in vain, as statistics show.

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Naomi poses with her father. Pic credit: Detroit News

Last year, Osaka started at number 68 in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings. That same year, she advanced in the upper level of women’s tennis when she won her first WTA title at the Indian Wells Open. She was then at the number 44 spot but moved up to 22 following that win.

In September, she won the US Open, defeating 23-time major champion Serena Williams in the final to become the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles tournament.

In January this year, the shy and candid star got her second Grand Slam title when she won the Australian Open. Going into that game, she was ranked 4th in the world but the win has seen her move to the number one ranking, making her the new world number one.

Last Edited by:Nduta Waweru Updated: January 30, 2019


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