US Open 2020: Naomi Osaka’s transformation from shyness to activism against racial violence in the United States

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The Japanese tennis player, champion at Flushing Meadows in 2018, will face Belarusian Victoria Azarenka on Saturday afternoon.

In the solitude of her room, a little Naomi Osaka listened over and over to Satoshi, the protagonist of the series Pokemon, to say: “I will become the best, the best there will ever be.” When she started playing tennis, the Japanese woman turned that song into a mantra that at age 21 she transformed into reality by reaching the first place in the ranking of the WTA. Although the finalist of the US Open 2020 had started to retrace that path a while before. Much to

Born in Osaka and raised in the Hokkaidoō region until the age of 3, when her family decided to move to Long Island, New York, and then settle in Florida, Naomi began playing tennis at 8 by the decision of her father, Leonard François , who saw in her and her sister Mari -with whom she has only been one year- the possible Williams sisters of the future.

While she managed to make both of them professionals, Mari failed to come close to Naomi’s level, which eventually transformed into the first Japanese to win individual Grand Slams and to reach number 1 in the ranking.

But Naomi didn’t stop there. In this 2020 it was also shown as activist within sport, denouncing the racial violence in the United States. So much so that in this US Open he chose to put names of victims of police violence on his mask. On Thursday, before getting her ticket to the final, she carried that of Philando Castile, an African-American motorist who was shot dead during a police check in front of the eyes of her partner and a girl in 2016.

15 days ago, Osaka got off the Cincinnati Open and denounced: “See the continuous genocide of black people at the hands of the police it really makes my stomach sick. I’m tired of a new hashtag popping out every few days and I’m absolutely tired of having this same conversation over and over. “

His decision to make this social issue public did not affect his performance. For the second time in the last three years, the Japanese managed to reach the final of the US Open, although this time she says she feels stronger mentally and is in better physical shape.

“I think my mentality is very different this time. I have learned a lot during the good times and the bad times, not even talking about the finals, just normal tournaments,” Osaka said at a press conference after the match in which he defeated. to the american Jennifer Brady.

“Mentally, I feel stronger. I feel like I’m fitter now. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens,” the athlete added, recalling the 2018 final at Flushing Meadows in which she defeated former world number one Serena Williams.

That was precisely the day his career took off. Is “hafu” -name by which mestizos are known in Japan- had achieved beat the teacher and yet he celebrated it with shame. She would say hello to whoever her inspiration was, just raised her arms and sat in the chair and kept crying for what was the second title of her career (she had won Indian Wells six months before) and the first Grand Slam for a Japanese singlist.

Soon after, another won: the Australian Open. And he climbed to the top step of the ranking. Brands, of course, were on her: the Nissan car company offered her sponsorship; Adidas, who wore her, promised to improve her contract. In the end she ended up doing business with Nike, which turned her into one of his highest paid athletes, according to Forbes magazine.

But then he entered a spiral from which it was difficult for him to get out: he won 13 games and lost 7 always with players outside the top ten (he fell by walk over with Kiki Bertens, fourth in the world, in Rome). At Roland Garros she barely made the third round and at Wimbledon she said goodbye in her first match.

In the US Open, meanwhile, fell in the round of 16 against the Swiss Belinda Bencic, who had previously won all three games played. Thus he lost his crown in New York and number one in favor of Ashleigh Barty.

The problems off the court impacted on his game. In March 2019, his former coach Christophe Jean claimed his first two million dollars from him, taking advantage of an agreement that he signed in 2011 with Leonard François, Naomi’s father. While at the end of that year she announced the end of her relationship with the Serbian Sascha Bajin, who had trained her since December 2017.

“Everyone thinks it was a money-related problem, but it wasn’t. It’s one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever heard. I see every member of my team as part of my family. I wouldn’t do any of that to them. No. I’m going to say nothing bad about Sascha, because of course I’m really grateful for everything he has done, “she said when she started working with the Belgian Wim Fissette, with whom – despite being stopped by the new coronavirus pandemic – seems to have rediscovered his game.

In the midst of that panorama, in October 2019, he had to choose between Japan and the United States to play the Olympic Games and the Federation Cup. Despite the seductive offer to represent one of the most powerful countries in the world, chose to be the leader and figure of the Japanese team.

“Unexpectedly, despite having spent the worst months of my life, I also had some of the best, because I met new people and was able to do things that I had never thought to do,” he recently said.


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