At the Miami Open in March, Naomi Osaka beat the person who inspired her to pick up a tennis racket. At age 20, she upset 36-year-old Serena Williams. (Six months after Serena gave birth, but we digress.)
Osaka can be shy and a bit goofy, but her strategy on the purple court came down to a question: "What would Serena do?" Williams' game is all about leaving it on the court, so that's what Osaka did. She captioned an Instagram post of the two shaking hands with, simply, "Omg." If you were meeting your idol, you'd probably do the same.
But don't try to limit her to her victory over Serena because she doesn't fit in any box.
She was born in Osaka, Japan, to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, but her family moved to Florida when she was three to be closer to her father's side. With her dual citizenship in the U.S. and Japan, her father decided to have Osaka register with the Japan Tennis Association rather than the United States Tennis Association. In 2016, Osaka was not only named WTA Newcomer of the Year, but she also became the first Japanese player since 1995 to reach the finals in the Toray Pan Pacific Open, a WTA event in Tokyo. Her duality is clear when she goes to Japan, where she says people are "confused and don't expect to see a black girl" because of her name.
Then there's how she's viewed outside of Japan.
In a post-match interview at the 2018 Australian Open, a reporter asked her: "You moved to New York when you were two years old and lived in the United States for a long time, but you're very proudly Japanese, obviously. What will this victory mean for the people back home, for both sets of fans who will be watching this for you?”
Osaka politely corrected him: "I'm really honored to be playing for Japan. My dad's side is Haitian, so represent."
And represent is what Osaka was born to do.
Paulana Lamonier is a Haitian American freelance journalist and on-air talent who has written for Forbes, Fast Company, Shondaland, Blavity and more. You can follow her at @ItsPaulana everywhere and her website Paulana.co.
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