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Haitian community basks in Naomi Osaka’s U.S. Open championship

Naomi Osaka put together a spectacular performance in defeating Serena Williams in the finals to capture the U.S. Open on Saturday. Osaka gained international attention for beating Williams one of the all-time great female tennis players.

Osaka, 20, posted a 6-2, 6-4 win over Williams, 36, for her first Grand Slam title. As a young tennis sensation, she has brought a lot of exposure to her multicultural heritage.

Osaka’s parents are of different ethnic backgrounds. She was born in Osaka, Japan, which is the same as her last name. She was born to a Japanese mother, Tamaki Osaka, and a Haitian father, Leonard Francois. Her father came to the United States from Haiti where he went to New York University.

After graduation, he traveled to Japan where he met and later married Naomi’s mother. Then, after three years, she came to this country where she finished her education.

“I think everybody knows this by now,” Osaka told The Washington Post. “Like I grew up in New York until I was 8 or 9 and then I moved to Florida.”

Osaka is the first player from Japan to win a Grand Slam title. With her ethnic background including Japanese and Haitian, she is also believed to be the first Haitian to win a major singles tennis championship. For many Haitians who reside in the Philadelphia area, Osaka gave them a chance to enjoy her accomplishment. It was a huge U.S. Open victory for Osaka in front of a packed house at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City on national television.

Lesley Antoine, who grew up in Jeremi, Haiti, is a barber who lives in University City. Antoine watched the match between Williams and Osaka. He feels Osaka will serve as an inspiration and create a strong interest in tennis for young women in Haiti.

“That will inspire young Haitian girls to play tennis,” Antoine said. “It will probably inspire young girls outside of Serena Williams to play tennis or any bi-racial young child to believe that they could make it to that big stadium. Her style of play is similar to Serena Williams. She’s copying after the Michael Jordan of tennis. That’s her idol.

“She brings a lot of pride and a lot of power. It’s a big face for Japan. She’s got both worlds. She’s a great young lady. She’s been raised well. They [her parents] put a lot of hard work into her to [get] her to where she is today. She’s going to be okay.”

Frank Green has been involved with tennis for more than two decades developing opportunities and molding young African American men and women in tennis as an organizer of many inner city programs. Green feels the national media coverage has taken Osaka’s visibility to another level.

“It’s the power of the media,” Green said. “The exposure from being seen on television. Naomi is guaranteed. She’s the real deal. She’s 20-years-old. She’s going to win may be one major a year. I’ll give her that kind of credential right [now] because she modeled her game after Serena. She hits just as hard when she needed to and surprises you because she’s stepping into the ball.”

Osaka has climbed the ladder in tennis. Her family moved to Florida from New York as an elementary school student. She went to Broward Virtual Middle High School. After she completed her education, Osaka attended the Florida Tennis SBT Academy and Pro World Tennis Academy. Florida is a hotbed for young tennis stars.

In 2012, Osaka really got her tennis career moving playing matches in the ITF Circuits. Her talents developed rapidly. In 2013, she turned professional. Osaka’s first pro appearance was at the WTA’s Bank of West Classic Tour in 2014. She got her first pro win over U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur.

In the next four years, Osaka, a 5-foot-11 standout, would continue to progress. This was her biggest year. In March she won the Indian Wells tournament defeating Maria Sharapova, who was ranked as the No. 1 player in the world, at the time.

However, her family as well as many others watching on television saw her top Williams on the big stage. Numa St. Louis, co-founder of the Haitian Professionals in Philadelphia, feels many Haitians wanted to see them both do well in the U.S. Open.

“Just like many people in the Black community view Serena as royalty in many respects,” St. Louis said. “So them facing each other at the U.S. Open championship many people including myself were torn. On one hand, we want to see Serena eclipse the record [24 Grand Slam titles held by Margaret Court] in terms of being the all-time Grand Slam winner, but at the same time Naomi presents herself so well and being half Haitian there is some degree of pride to see somebody who hails from the community at that stage.”

During the course of the match, there was some controversy with Williams and the chair umpire who charged her with three violations. Williams was visibly upset with the violations. The match concluded in a chaotic manner. There were some booing during the trophy ceremony following the match. Williams showed some class speaking to the fans. She also put her arm around Osaka and congratulated her. St. Louis thought Osaka handled herself quite well in a tough situation.

“Obviously, we felt the game was very emotional, very challenging,” St. Louis said. “We wished that it ended in better terms, but we’re extremely proud of Naomi the way she kept her composure. The way she kept her in emotion in check. I think she showed a lot of maturity.”

St. Louis feels Osaka is very comfortable with her Haitian heritage. Moreover, it was very evident following her U.S. Open victory in Flushing Meadow, N.Y.

“She’s super articulate,” St. Louis said. “As you see, people want to mention her identity as being Japanese. She always feels the need to interject that she’s also Haitian.

“Her father is from Haiti. Like I said, she has been to Haiti. So, I think she’s somebody who is very comfortable in her own skin in terms of her background and culture. In fact, she celebrated her victory by going to the most popular Haitian restaurant in New York called “Meli Melo.” So the community is very proud of her.”

The Haitian community has produced some professional football and basketball players over the years. Osaka is the latest in the line of professional athletes with a Haitian descent.

“We’ve never had a tennis player at that stage,” St. Louis said. “We’ve had a host of NBA players and some of them who played in Philadelphia from Samuel Dalembert to [Nerlens] Noel [former Philadelphia 76ers] and some others. We’re super proud of Naomi and we’ll see how her career goes.”

Osaka brought huge presence to Japanese as well as the Haitian culture with her big victory at the U.S. Open.

Article by: Donald Hunt

Photo By: Bustle

Source: The Philidelphia Tribune


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