When the World Tennis Association Women's Rankings are announced this week, it's a safe bet that Naomi Osaka's name will appear number one. Osaka will become the first Haitian/Japanese woman to receive such an honor. After impressive Grand Slam championship performances at the U.S. Open last September and the Australian Open, Osaka has vaulted herself to the top of her profession.
Born in Japan to a Haitian father and Japanese mother, the shy and reserved Osaka is anything but when it comes to speaking about her multi-ethnic heritage.
The problem lies in the media coverage of Osaka, which has been reluctant to acknowledge her Haitian roots.
Listening to Naomi Osaka's acceptance speech, one can appreciate the genuine humility she exudes.
There is a disturbing narrative being written on the budding legacy of Naomi Osaka. No matter how often she speaks of her Haitian background, a portion of fans, the press in the United States and abroad, even the governing bodies in sport she loves will identify her as a Japanese woman.
Rarely mentioned is Naomi's mother Tamaki Osaka being estranged from her family for nearly fifteen years because of her relationship with Naomi's father Leonard Francois. Francois is from Haiti and met Osaka when he visited Japan while in college from New York. Osaka and Franciois also have an older daughter, Mari. Osaka's Japanese grandparents did not approve of tennis being dominant in the girl's lives and only began to show support once Naomi proved successful.
Osaka moved to the United States with her family when she was three. They lived with Francois' parents who spoke no English and communicated with the girls by speaking Creole. Her mother only spoke to her in Japanese. Osaka by her own admission can understand the Japanese language better than she can speak it.
Naomi's parents decided she and her sister would represent Japan on the tennis circuit at an early age due to the fact that they were born in Japan and raised in a Haitian/Japanese culture. There also may have been motivation from the United States Tennis Association which showed no interest in Osaka when she began playing tennis. The Association extended an invitation for Osaka to train at their national training center when she turned 16, but she declined.
Osaka's first Grand Slam win at the U.S. Open was overshadowed by controversy surrounding the game umpire and Serena Williams.
The public display of affection for Osaka came during the 2018 U.S. Open in her tournament final against Serena Williams. Osaka defeated Williams for the second time that year, but her U.S. Open victory was marred by the on-court controversy involving Williams who was penalized for abusive language, resulting in the deduction of a point. Williams back and forth with the umpire was justified despite being booed by the crowd during the altercation and at the trophy presentation.
This moment carries weight for those who have grown weary of the dominance of the Williams' Sisters for two decades. There have been tense moments between Williams and game officials over the years. Given the venue and the magnitude of the match, it cast Serena in a bad light, opening the door to embrace Osaka, not because she deserved it but because it was pushing Serena further away from the limelight.
You can almost hear the tennis world in a collective exhale the night Osaka won the U.S. Open. Two decades of Black dominance by the Williams Sisters was coming to an end. Disposed of by a "Japanese"-born phenom whose father just happens to be Haitian. At the time of the U.S. Open Francois -- who followed Richard Williams' blueprint when it came to Mari and Naomi's development -- did not watch any of Naomi's matches. It's evident when viewing Osaka's matches how the mention of her father and his background are rare.
Detractors of the Williams Sisters have searched the world over for a Great White Hope to knock them from the top of the mountain with no success. Enter Haitian/Japanese Naomi Osaka, the once rejected stone of the USTA is now set as their cornerstone to usher in the post-Williams Era of women's tennis.
If the powers that be have any say in the matter, Osaka's Haitian heritage will be kept in the dark no matter how high she ascends.