First and foremost the unseeded Naomi Osaka won the Indian Wells Open this past weekend (March 18, 2018). The same tournament who’s past leadership guided a policy of exclusion directed at the Williams Tennis Dynasty. Just a few years ago those now in control of the tournament opened their arms wide to both Venus and Serena. These two legends came with trepidation’s given past history. Now that has all changed and Venus the taller one and also the most active one returned with impressive results over the last several years, despite Indian Wells missing her youthful prime performances. Now they are experiencing another resurgence by Venus this year at 37 years of age only to perhaps to see her lose staying power in a defeat to a 20 year old in the semi-finals. If this had gone the way I dreamed, It would have been the opportunity to appreciate the other 20 year old finalist Naomi Osaka play her tennis idol Venus Williams (8). Just a note that Venus knocked out her sister, Serena, a new mom, upon her return to serious competition. Serena will return!
I have been watching the rise of Naomi Osaka for several years. She has the tennis star physique, tall, strong, fast, serves at 125 mph with varying spin and paces and apparently got her mental act together. That demonstration was apparent in her defeat of the world’s number one, Simone Halep in the semi-final run at Indian Wells. The championship was unambiguous as was the final score (63 62) against her also 20 year old opponent Daria Kasatkina ranked (20). This win places Osaka at number 22, her highest so far. Statistics shows she wins at 59.29% and this is also her first WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) title a major accomplishment for an upcoming tennis player. Her grand slam results have been consistent at 3rd or 4th rounds.
Naomi, born in Japan has a Haitian Father and a Japanese Mother and moved to the United States of America at three years old. She has a sister Mari, also a professional tennis player. She is coached by David Taylor, a veteran Australian coach. Her new sparring partner, Sascha Bajin, formerly worked with Serena during her Grand Slam runs and most recently Wozniacki, who just recently won the Australian Open 2018. The future of professional tennis will have major nation representation. Naomi represents Japan yet she remains a Global Afro Woman in my book and that is part of my recognition. How many will the young Osaka influence from all the nations she represents? As many as possible, I hope! Her website is Naomiosaka.com. Visit us at lillianonline.us
Since the initial writing of this article, Naomi Osaka played and defeated Serena Williams during the Miami Open 2018 only to fall the next round. While it is difficult to beat Serena she actually accomplished that where Naomi met and prevailed over Serena in 2018 US Open. This put her in the elite top ten of tennis. Serena after her complex reactions during the US Open finals she had a chance to meet Naomi again in the Rogers Cup in Toronto where she won in the quarter finals. Naomi went on to win the Australian Open in 2019.
In 2020 and after winning two major championship Naomi Osaka again captured the US Open title by defeating Azarenka of Belarus. This third grand slam uncovered Naomi Osaka as an activist where she wore seven masks each for the number of games played with the names of African Americans who were victims of police violence. This specific act made her unique as Sloane Stephens wore masks Black Lives Matter as well as DC native Tiafoe wore a shirt and mask combination. Naomi, represents Japan, claims her blackness, and lives in LA, catapulted her into the consciousness of many African Americans. Normally Naomi may not have been noticed as much before given the groundbreaking influence of Serena and Venus Williams. All that changed when the families did video messages thanking Osaka for bringing attention to their lost loved ones in one of the top sports platforms. In an article Naomi recognizes that she is an athlete in a bubble and when asked during the interview after winning the US Open, turned the question around saying ‘what do you get out of it’? She emphasizes the importance of the loss of life over her playing tennis and just wants to start a conversation ‘in a majority white sport’, which she ‘considered a step in the right direction’. Now Naomi Osaka is described now as a tennis player and activist, which I consider the future of tennis. She has matured and continues to become better at her craft and as a voice inside her community and in the world of professional tennis. Our protagonist at Lillianonline.
Article and art by Lillian L Thompson of Lillianonline.us