Naomi Osaka's Parents, Leonard Francois and Tamaki Osaka, Are Her Biggest Fans

They've helped shape Osaka's tennis career, as well as her life off the court.

naomi's father leonard francois osaka with naomi osaka of japan posing with the daphne akhurst memorial cup during the women's australian open media opportunity at brighton beach on january 27, 2019 in melbourne, australia photo by julian finneygetty images
Julian FinneyGetty Images

The world is buzzing over Naomi Osaka. It's not just because she's a tennis superstar and two-time Grand Slam winner, but also because Osaka has sent a critical message about Black Lives Matter and racial justice at the 2020 U.S. Open. Osaka has been playing while wearing masks with the names of Black murder victims on them, including Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. If you're not a tennis fan, this might be the first time you've heard her name—but Naomi is a badass. She was raised by her father to excel at tennis and followed the trajectory of greats like Serena Williams before actually beating Williams in the U.S. Open in 2018. “I feel like I’m a vessel in order to spread awareness,” she has said of her recent mask-wearing, but she's been vocally supportive of causes like these for a long time. So what do we know about her family, who have had a profound effect on her?

Naomi's family is Haitian and Japanese.

Naomi's parents are Leonard Francois (who hails from Haiti) and Tamaki Osaka (who's from Japan). Naomi identifies as Black and Asian, but, despite growing up in the U.S. for a portion of her life growing up, says she doesn't identify as American. "I don’t necessarily feel like I’m American. I wouldn’t know what that feels like."

Instead, Naomi celebrates her heritage, saying in a 2018 interview:

"Japanese culture? I love everything about it...And Haiti, if you’ve ever met a Haitian person, they are really positive, and literally if you’re friends with them, then they will do anything for you. That’s something that is a really good trait, and I’m really happy that my grandparents and my dad’s side of the family is like that."

Tamaki met Francois in Japan when she was in high school and he was in college. The two dated in secret for years, and Tamaki's family didn't speak to her for about a decade and a half when they learned of her relationship with Francois. The couple moved to Long Island to live with Francois' family when Naomi was 3 (she was born in Osaka). But the family reconnected with Tamaki's family in 2008.

Naomi's parents are both her biggest fans. After Naomi beat Serena Williams in 2018, she went straight to her mother and the two embraced in an emotional, tearful moment:

new york, ny   september 08  naomi osaka of japan celebrates winning the womens singles finals match against serena williams of the united states with her mother tamaki osaka on day thirteen of the 2018 us open at the usta billie jean king national tennis center on september 8, 2018 in the flushing neighborhood of the queens borough of new york city  photo by elsagetty images
ElsaGetty Images

Afterwards, Naomi posted about her parents and their support:

Her older sister Mari also plays tennis.

Naomi's older sister Mari is also a tennis player (and, in case you're wondering, yes, they have drawn comparisons to Venus and Serena Williams). She's currently ranked #350. The two sisters are extremely close and best friends off the court—and they play doubles on the court, too.

They actually collaborated on a mask before the U.S. Open, with the proceeds going to UNICEF:

Mari also occasionally posts family photos:

As well as some sweet sibling goofiness (swipe to see the video):

Naomi's father started coaching her when she was young.

Francois didn't have tennis experience, but was inspired by—who else—the Williams sisters. Followed the "blueprint" of their father Richard Williams, Francois watched videos and had his daughters hit thousands of balls a day. The family later moved to Florida for training opportunities, and Francois still follows his daughters' training and matches closely.

Naomi's parents also explained why they chose for Naomi to represent Japan, giving up her U.S. citizenship, despite growing up in America:

"We made the decision that Naomi would represent Japan at an early age. She was born in Osaka and was brought up in a household of Japanese and Haitian culture. Quite simply, Naomi and her sister Mari have always felt Japanese so that was our only rationale. It was never a financially motivated decision nor were we ever swayed either way by any national federation."

Naomi has developed a strong fan base in Japan, as well as lucrative endorsements.

She parted ways with her former coach Jermaine Jenkins in 2019 and her father stepped in temporarily to coach her. She joked at the time that yes, she would be bringing on another coach, and that her father's support was important and also frustrating. “Yeah, he’s so annoying. Oh, my God [laughter]. Do you hear his on-court coaching? I can’t believe it. He runs up to the bench talking about, Be calm. That’s it. He doesn’t give me any tactics. I can’t believe this. I was so mad [laughter].” She also divulged that he couldn't watch her play, preferring to catch glimpses on the TV feed.

shenzhen, china   october 26 naomi osaka of japan looks on with her coach and father leonard francois during a practice session ahead of the 2019 wta finals at shenzhen bay sports center on october 26, 2019 in shenzhen, china photo by lintao zhanggetty images
Naomi and her father look on during a practice session ahead of the 2019 WTA finals.
Lintao ZhangGetty Images

She added, more seriously, "Yeah, for me, he kind of lets me do my own thing, which I like. Also I feel like I need structure a little bit because if I do my own thing for too long, I don’t know, I feel like I need guidance or advice from someone, you know?” In 2020, she added coach Wim Fissette to her team—but her family remains an important part of her work and life.

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