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Is Naomi Osaka a quiet warrior?

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by GALE MOORMAN

When you walk on the court, a winner of the WTA Rising Star Award, it makes you become determined to prove your game is sizzling, but for Osaka, that is her aim at every match.

When a racket is put in your hands at three years old and you start swinging and that big grin comes on your face, and you're having fun...no one can get the racket back...no one. Naomi Osaka, the 2nd daughter of Tamaki and Leonard has watched her sister, Mari playing the game of tennis and she naturally wanted to learn. Naomi was born in Osaka, Japan's 2nd largest city to a Haitian dad and a Japanese mother. The family decided to move to New York to be closer to Leonard's family. The two girls were enjoying their play at this racket sport, very uncommon for a pair of pre-schoolers in other places in the city or world to become engaged with this sport at so young an age. Leonard Francois was the dad, but also their coach and Naomi and Mari didn't consider it to be work at all to play, have fun and often when tested to be competitive and win games on each other. It wasn't long that a mere childhood game became serious and the family traveled to Japan to talk with coaches from the Japanese Tennis Association. Stereotypes are unfortunately ever present and Naomi says "And when I go to Japan, people are confused...from my name, they don't expect to see a black girl". She also trains in Florida and has a Japanese coach escorting them to tournaments for support and guidance. 

The participation of Futures and Challengers was good experience for Naomi as she had entered the US Open Girls in 2011 and was totally amazed to have won a 2-1/2 hour battle with experienced Samantha Stosur to win in the main draw, her 1st win at a Grand Slam tournament. Osaka had went on to continue practicing and playing Futures and began to enjoy her journey into the tour by being a runner-up in an El Paso tournament and then to enter the 2013 French Open Girls to win over the very hopeful Belinda Bencic in straight sets. She was becoming persuaded to turn pro but when she was in the finals of another Challenger in 2014 and then qualified to enter the prestigious Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, California clocking 120 mph serves, this was her incentive to turn pro in 2014, ranked at no. 406. She also had a chance to train at the Harold Solomon Academy, a former and legendary player on the ATP tour. Naomi says of her strongest attributes is her massive forehand, stinging serves and aggressive baseline play. The family decided to look for a more technical coach for Naomi, so they found their answer in Patrick Tauma who became her coach when she was 15 years old. He is from France and started his coaching career at the young age of 18, where his passion for the game was unbeatable. He was responsible for training top 50 players in the world and played with Venus, Serena, Capriati, Sharapova, Mary Pierce and so many others. Leonard and wife Tamaki made the decision to have Patrick coach Naomi and she became intense, winning 3 matches to qualify for the main draw at the Australian Open this year (2016) ranked at no. 127 and was happy to have turned 18 with no more limits on the amount of tournaments she can play because of the WTA age restriction policy. The Japanese Federation also has a coach assisting Naomi and her family. They had also talked to the USTA for business support, but the Japanese Federation was more of an apt conclusion because of Naomi's multi ethnicity.

Daniel Balog of Octagon Management says that her diverse background does make her a highly marketable player. But her culture has also been a two-edged sword for Osaka who is trying to crack the top 100 and trying also to be more fluent in Japanese. After her wins often the press conferences will be filled with the Japanese media. She is a typical teen who loves her cellphone and internet technologies as well as her teen sayings. She wasn't extremely fluid with Japanese when the media rattled off a line of questions in Japanese and with her joking and 'dancing around' many terms they became confused. They aren't fluid in English and didn't know if Naomi was being arrogant, joking or just young and taking the situation in stride. She intends to play in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 under the Japanese flag, which makes those fans very happy. Many matches she plays she notices the Japanese flags waving and says that "...the fact that there ws like Japanese flags and stuff, it was like really touching". 

Naomi has played the BNP Paribus Indian Wells and The Miami Open making it to the 3rd rounds. She presently is in the Volvo Cars Open in Charleston, South Carolina where she won her 1st round over Tereza Martincova in straight sets. Naomi considers it all an on court-hands on experience in climbing the ranks and to be consistent and more proficient in learning Japanese. Osaka's friends say her personality is somewhat serious and unfriendly at times but she says that isn't the case, that she's not a great conversationalist. She has a growing fan base and most could care less if she speaks fluent Japanese or not, as long as she let's her racket do the talking and keeps her win column blasting.

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