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Naomi Osaka: The birth of a new tennis star

US Open Womens Single champion Naomi Osaka of Japan (R) with Serena Williams of the US following their Women’s Singles Finals match at the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on September 8, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY

Standing on the baseline in the largest tennis stadium in the world, the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, 20-year-old Haitian-Japanese, Naomi Osaka, was attempting to do the unthinkable, beat the 23 Grand Slam Champion and multiple Olympic Gold medalist, Serena Williams in straight sets, in front of her home crowd.

Born to a Haitian father, Leonard “San” François, and a Japanese mother, Tamaki Osaka in October, 1997, Naomi and her older sister, Mari were given their mother’s maiden name for practical reasons when the family lived in Japan.

Her father was born in Haiti, schooled in America before moving to Japan where he met Naomi’s mother and they got married.

In racially homogeneous Japan, she is considered hafu, a racial slur for biracial people.

Her Japanese grandfather was furious when he found out that her mother was romantically involved with a black man.

As a result of the interracial relationship, her mother did not have contact with her family for over 10 years. In a 2016 interview, Osaka said, “When I go to Japan, people are confused.

From my name, they don’t expect to see a black girl.”

Osaka moved at the age of three with her family to the United States where she currently resides in Florida and trains there.

The star has always struggled with her identity for years, once saying, “I never know what to do when someone asks me where I’m from, I just say Florida, because saying Japan starts an unnecessary conversation.”

Currently ranked seventh in the world, she is the first player ever from Japan or Haiti to win a grand slam.

Serving for a championship is one of the hardest things a tennis player can do, especially one that is getting to her grand slam final for the first time ever and against one of the greatest players in the world.

Many a player have lost the set, some, even the match trying to serve for it. Even experienced players are not left out of this delicate situation.

So, when Naomi stood there serving for it, everyone thought, ‘she is going to crack here and Serena is coming back for sure.’

It never happened that way.

Swinging the racquet as thousands of voices screamed for a Serena victory, she surged to a 6-2 6-4 victory.

Fearless, determined, fierce and aggressive, she matched Serena serve for serve, return for return, aggressively going for the shots that left the audience in disbelief.

The second set was, however, marred by a major outburst from Serena, enraged by a coaching violation handed down by umpire, Carlos Ramos.

This was promptly followed by another violation for racquet abuse and a point penalty for receiving a second violation.

This made Serena extremely upset and she challenged Ramos, demanding an apology. She was promptly given a game penalty, pushing Osaka into the lead, who went on to serve out an astounding victory.

Both players were playing historic matches; a Serena win would’ve matched her with Australian, Margaret Court, holding the highest number of Grand Slams by any player, dead or alive whilst Osaka was bidding to become the very first Japanese player to win a slam.

Compatriot, Kei Nishikori came close four years ago but lost to Marin Cilic in straights.

As the pro-Williams crowd booed the new champion, reducing her to tears, Williams graciously asked the crowd to stop and show the young champion some respect.

Osaka, acknowledging that Serena is her idol and “It was always my dream to play Serena in a US Open finals,” said she didn’t feel bad because she understood that they wanted Serena to win and “I would have been pulling for her to win too.”

She also said the controversy hasn’t altered her feelings about winning a slam because she had no idea how she was supposed to react, going on to describe Serena as her idol and inspiration.

Cashing In

While her payday from the US Open wasn’t too shabby- $3.8 million in case you were curious, she was on Thursday, signed on as brand ambassador for Nissan motors in Yokohama, Japan at a grand welcome ceremony held in her honour.

Becoming an overnight sensation in Japan, there are rumours that she is about to land the biggest deal Adidas has ever given a female athlete, about $10 million.

In a bit of happy timing, her four-year deal with Adidas, reportedly in the low six figures, was set to expire later this year.

The company was quick to add her to its “Creators Unite” campaign.

She also scored deals with Yonex, Nissin Foods, Wowow and Citizen watch, earning a bonus because of the attention she got for wearing the company’s watches.

It is well known that Asians are very intense when marketing their athletes and if Osaka keeps winning, she might just begin to rival top players in terms of endorsements earning.

Nishikori presently makes five times what he makes from actually playing tennis from endorsements alone.

The US Open was Osaka’s biggest title to date after winning in Indian Wells in March earlier in the year.

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