Being ranked a top five world tennis player isn’t easy. The pressure to deliver is always on as fans cheer in the stands and from home.
Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka had a tough call to make on October 16th, her 22nd birthday. Osaka holds dual citizenship in both Japan and the United States, and Japanese law requires that dual citizens choose between their two nationalities once they reach that age.
Although Osaka was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, she’s been raised in the U.S. since age three. Her dominance in professional tennis - she’s currently ranked third in the world - was largely cultivated through inspiration from (and high profile matches against) American athletes like her idol, the greatest player of all time, Serena Williams.
As she rose to fame, many wanted to know her life story. But she’s expressed that she’s a little tired of explaining the complexity of who she is ethnically and where she comes from geographically. Still, Osaka’s love for her home country, on the heels of her Olympic debut in Tokyo next year, appears to be the main motivation behind her decision.
"It is a special feeling to aim for the Olympics as a representative of Japan. I think that playing with the pride of the country will make me feel more emotional," Naomi told Japanese broadcaster NHK while being asked about her plans for the 2020 Games.
To be clear, she has represented both countries in major matches over her career - including the China Open (which she recently won), the Fed Cup, and the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Tour - but now she’s excited to go all-in for the country where she was born.
When it comes to cheering on Black women on the world stage of tennis, Black Americans have had the special luxury of cheering on incredible victors. From Althea Gibson and the Williams sisters to rising stars Sloane Stephens and Coco Gauff, we have never had a conflict of interest when devoting our loyalty to those who identify with us, either ethnically or by nationality.
The champion herself has looked to many of these women with total admiration. That respect for her fellow winners and the game helps her remain humble, even after winning back to back Grand Slams in 2018 and 2019.
“For me, Grand Slams is something you dream about playing as a kid,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “I don’t ever want to waste this opportunity.”
Black Americans have supported international Black athletes before (like Jamaican Usain Bolt and retired Brazilian soccer star Pelé, for example) and will likely do it again - regardless of the fact that Osaka is on board to compete for Japan.