AP Photo/Andy Brownbill (left), AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery (right)

Naomi Osaka's Parents Helped Mold a Tennis Superstar

Professional tennis player and reigning US Open Champ Naomi Osaka is the last person who wants to make headlines. The athlete is famously shy. Her aversion to the press has been evident for years. Paradoxically, her desire for privacy has only brought about more publicity.

Osaka is taking a break from major tennis tournaments during the summer of 2021. After a year of protests, quarantines, Grand Slams and heightened social anxiety, who's to say she can't? She wants to spend more time with her family, the same people who helped make her who she is today.

Naomi Osaka was born to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother. Raised internationally and multiculturally, Osaka says she feels more Haitian and Japanese than American. Her sister Mari echoes the sentiment. Naomi's upbringing wasn't typical, and neither was the meeting of her parents.

Naomi Osaka Parents

Naomi Osaka's parents are Leonard Francois and Tamaki Osaka.

Their love story spans cultures, timezones and languages. Somehow, between Caribbean and Asian roots, this unlikely pair met by the most unlikely of circumstances.

Naomi's father, Leonard, was born in Jacmel, Haiti. He moved to New York City to attend New York University. NYU brought Leonard to Sapporo, Japan. There, he reportedly met Tamaki Osaka, still a high school student. The unlikely pair formed a secret bond that would change tennis history forever.

Their young relationship overcame a rocky start. Osaka's father was unhappy about Francois' ethnicity and outsider status, considered taboo in the Japanese culture of the time. Though born in Hokkaido, Tamaki left her parents behind. She moved to Osaka to be with Francois and start a family. Her parents remained estranged for years. They have since reconnected.

Leonard and Tamaki found love despite overt racism. Francois and Tamaki stayed in Japan for several years before moving to New York City, a world-renowned melting pot. By then, Tamaki had given birth to two daughters in Ch??-Ku, Osaka.

Naomi Osaka Sister

Naomi Osaka moved to Long Island, New York, at the early age of three. Her older sister Mari was four at the time.

While in New York, Francois watched the teenage Williams Sisters dominate the French Open in 1999. That gave him an idea. He moved the family to Florida and followed the Richard Williams (Venus and Serena Williams's dad) Blueprint for Conquering the Tennis World.

Naomi's father moved his Haitian-Japanese family to Florida to join a tennis academy in 2006. By 2014, Mari Osaka and Naomi Osaka made the Women's Tennis Association Tour for the first time. Naomi defeated Serena Williams in 2018, the very athlete who inspired her tennis career. She was the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam title. It was far from her last.

Naomi Osaka Tennis Career

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The tennis superstar has won a Grand Slam title every year since defeating Serena Williams at the US Open. Her first WTA Tour victory came at Indian Wells. Now ,Osaka is the reigning champion of both the US Open and Australian Open.

Any women's tennis player who wants to claim the No. 1 spot on hard surfaces has to beat Naomi, and few have the return to do so. The IMG-managed athlete-of-tomorrow has a 125-mph serve, accelerated by years of rigorous training.

Osaka is perhaps an even bigger celebrity off the court than she is on it (if that's even possible). She's an advocate for social justice, the Black Lives Matter movement and mental health awareness. Her struggles with depression and social anxiety led Osaka to drop out of the French Open and Wimbledon in 2021.

The world No. 2 singles player and highest-paid female athlete took personal time with her friends and family in 2021. The star has every right to do so—mental health is vital. Tennis pressers can be grueling. The intense profession drove Mari Osaka to resign from professional tennis in March 2021, claiming she was worse for the wear. Still, Mari remains supportive of her sister Naomi in retirement.

Osaka can afford to take some time off. Osaka has many endorsements, bolstering her huge net worth. Nike (and Adidas), Yonex, Tag Heuer, Louis Vuitton, Citizen, Sweetgreen, Nissan and Nissin Foods all sponsor the young tennis star.

Osaka invests in women's sports as a co-owner of the National Women's Soccer League's North Carolina Courage. She was named one of Sports Illustrated's Sportspersons of the Year as an activist athlete in 2020. Osaka is also dating rapper YBN Cordae, and the couple resides in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles. She plans to represent Japan in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

The 23-year-old Naomi Osaka is taking a long overdue break. She's perfected her craft over a decade of countless hours committed to becoming the best. She's reached the peak of her field, and now she's taking a breather. She's hardly the first athlete to do so. She won't be the last. Expect to see Osaka again whenever she's ready. Expect her parents and sister to be right there supporting her.

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