Naomi Osaka’s parents have attributed her remarkable rise to tennis stardom to legends Serena and Venus Williams.
A spark of inspiration: Tamaki Osaka, mother of the four-time Grand Slam champion shared in a recent interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun how watching the Williams sisters’ historic French Open doubles title run in 1999 ignited her tennis dreams for her daughters.
“Living without any clear idea of the future, I wanted to instill a dream more than make money,” she was quoted saying. “The way [the Williams sisters] flew around the world and influenced society blew my mind.”
Facing adversities: At the time, Naomi was a year and a half while her sister Mari was 3 years old. Despite facing financial challenges and limited knowledge of tennis, Tamaki and her husband, Leonard Francois, were determined to jumpstart their daughters’ success early. Tamaki took on additional part-time jobs and worked longer hours to support this dream.
They first enrolled Naomi and her sister Mari in a gymnastics school to develop their balance and core muscles. Their desire to mold them into skilled athletes at a young age initially encountered some obstacles as some tennis schools refused to accept them. Eventually, Mari’s impressive return skills secured her a spot, with Naomi watching and eagerly expressing her own desire to join in.
“Growing up, I saw my mother work incredibly hard to support me and my passion for play,” Naomi recalled in a 2021 interview
. “She always put others first and encouraged me to embrace my diversity. Every role model I’ve had has inspired me to dream big… I want to show them that I stick to my beliefs and love who I am. Then maybe one day, it will help them feel confident that it’s okay to be different and create their own lane—as long as they remain true to themselves.”
Not giving up: The Osaka family relocated to New York in 2001 and then to Florida in 2006, in search of better training opportunities. According to Leonard, he was inspired by the Williams sisters’ father Richard Williams, so he watched and studied videos to coach Naomi and Mari.
A dream come true: As Naomi’s star continued to rise, she eventually shared the court with Serena several times. Despite contentious moments, including their notable clash during the 2018 US Open final, Osaka has consistently touted Serena as one of her greatest inspirations.
“I don’t know if there are any little kids out here today, but I was a little kid watching her play,” Naomi said after playing Serena at the Australian Open. “And just to be on the court playing against her, for me, is a dream.”