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.

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
(Image credit: Julian Finney)

The world is buzzing over Naomi Osaka. Not just because she's a tennis superstar and two-time Grand Slam winner, but also because Osaka sent a critical and courageous 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

(Image credit: Elsa)

Afterwards, Naomi posted about her parents and their support:

"She is very close to her family," Lindsay Davenport said of Osaka during a segment on the Tennis Channel. "Her parents have done a remarkable job the last few years, grooming this superstar and then stepping back and letting her live her life."

Her older sister Mari also played tennis.

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

naomi osaka family

(Image credit: Koji Watanabe)

In March of 2021, Mari wrote on Instagram: "I am retired from playing tennis. It was a journey which I didn't enjoy ultimately but I'm grateful for all the memories and support I've gained and received over the years from the sport."

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.

Osaka has also spoken about her mother's influence. “Growing up, I saw my mother work incredibly hard to support me and my passion for play. She always put others first and encouraged me to embrace my diversity," she said in a statement about her tennis academy.

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.

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Naomi and her father look on during a practice session ahead of the 2019 WTA finals.

(Image credit: Lintao Zhang)

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.

Finally, this is adorable:

Katherine J. Igoe
Contributing Editor

Katherine’s a contributing syndications editor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle. In her role, she writes stories that are syndicated by MSN and other outlets. She’s been a full-time freelancer for over a decade and has had roles with Cosmopolitan (where she covered lifestyle, culture, and fashion SEO content) and Bustle (where she was their movies and culture writer). She has bylines in New York TimesParentsInStyle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Her work has also been syndicated by ELLEHarper’s BazaarSeventeenGood Housekeeping, and Women’s Health, among others. In addition to her stories reaching millions of readers, content she's written and edited has qualified for a Bell Ringer Award and received a Communicator Award. 

Katherine has a BA in English and art history from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in art business from the Sotheby's Institute of Art (with a focus on marketing/communications). She covers a wide breadth of topics: she's written about how to find the very best petite jeanshow sustainable travel has found its footing on Instagram, and what it's like to be a professional advice-giver in the modern world. Her personal essays have run the gamut from learning to dress as a queer woman to navigating food allergies as a mom. She also has deep knowledge of SEO/EATT, affiliate revenue, commerce, and social media; she regularly edits the work of other writers. She speaks at writing-related events and podcasts about freelancing and journalism, mentors students and other new writers, and consults on coursework. Currently, Katherine lives in Boston with her husband and two kids, and you can follow her on Instagram. If you're wondering about her last name, it’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.