Diverse team guides Naomi Osaka to the top of her sport

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A report by Tadahiro Tomiyama for The Asahi Shimbun.

Fittingly for Naomi Osaka, who is half-Japanese, half-Haitian, the team who helped her win a second Grand Slam title at the Australian Open on Jan. 26 is ethnically diverse.

Her coach, Sascha Bajin, who was named the coach of the year by the Women’s Tennis Association in 2018, is a German.

Her fitness coach, Abdul Sillah, is an American with Libyan roots. Japanese Masashi Yoshikawa, a coach with the Japan Tennis Association, offers support at her practice sessions and analysis of her play.

Kristy Stahr, an American, works as a trainer.

Osaka expressed gratitude to her diverse team in her speech during the trophy ceremony.

“Thanks to my team, I don’t think I would have made it through this week without you,” Osaka said. “Behind every tennis player is a great team.”

The members have pooled their professional expertise and experience to draw out the best from Osaka, just as a Formula One team does with its driver.

Previously, the 21-year-old tennis star could not keep her emotions in check at times when she continued making unforced errors.

But she learned how to persevere under Bajin’s guidance.

Under Sillah’s oversight, Osaka improved her agility and enhanced her endurance by going for long training runs and streamlining her body.

Osaka was once known for her fierce power game with booming serves and pounding groundstrokes. She is now also showing resiliency in thriving on the sport’s biggest stages.

In the Australian Open final against Petra Kvitova, Osaka hung tough against her opponent’s powerful shots and kept her unforced errors to 33, six fewer than her more experienced Czech foe.