Newcomer of the Year
Naomi Osaka. One part Japanese, one part Haitian. Two parts awesome. She turned 19 in October and we’ll see which 20 comes first: her age or her ranking.
“I have seen her play, she’s really young and really aggressive, she’s a really good, talented player. Very dangerous” Serena Williams told USAToday reporters.
Naomi Osaka is an 18-year-old tennis player from Japan. Osaka was born in Osaka, Japan’s second city, to a Haitian father and Japanese mother. When Naomi was three, her family moved to New York to be close to her dad’s family. Naomi currently lives and trains predominantly in Florida with her father, though she also spends some time in Japan with coaches from the Japanese Tennis Association.
Osaka made her breakthrough on the WTA Tour two years ago when she qualified as a 406th-ranked 16-year-old for the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, California, and beat former U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur in the first round. At the 2016 Australian Open, the now current ranked No. 127 Osaka came through qualifying to reach the main draw. In the second round, she defeated No. 18 seedWhen she began to develop into a top-rate tennis player a few years ago, her father, Leonard Francois, chose the Japanese Tennis Association over the United States Tennis Association because of Naomi’s dual passport. She’s played under the Japanese flag ever since and is one of the country’s most highly touted rising stars but she barely speaks the language.
At the 2016 Australian Open, the now current ranked No. 127 Osaka came through qualifying to reach the main draw. In the second round, she defeated No. 18 seed Elina Svitolina in straight sets.
She credits her improved consistency on the court with a newfound maturity and the fact she’s no longer limited in how many tournaments she can play by the WTA’s age restrictions.
At 5-foot-11 and with big, bouncing hair, Osaka cuts an imposing figure. She doesn’t smile much on court, but possesses perhaps one of the biggest serves outside of Serena Williams, her idol.
She is a hit with fans – both in Japan and globally. Last fall she was voted by fans from around the world to participate in the Rising Stars Invitational in Singapore, a showcase event put on by the WTA of players 23 and under. She won the tournament, where she met her other idol Venus Williams.
“I want to be inside the top 100… top 50 by the end of the year,” Osaka says of her rankings goals. Having turned 18 last fall, she is no longer tethered to age-eligibility rules that limit her play. Her goal this year is to crack the top 100 and win a tournament. Off the court? She wants to master Japanese.
Her goal this year is to crack the top 100 and win a tournament. Off the court? She wants to master Japanese.