Photos: Christopher Williams
Naomi Osaka, (above far right in black) the defending US Open tennis singles champion, returned to her tennis roots in Southeast Queens a few days before her first-round match on Monday August 30.
Osaka’s return to the Jamaica courts was an anticipated event within the Southeast Queens tennis community. Located at the Detective Keith L. Williams Park, previously known as Liberty Park, the unveiling of the 5 refurbished tennis courts attracted over 200 people, which included students, coaches, and parents. Many of the participants were from several local tennis programs, which included: Liberty Tennis, Kings County Tennis League, City Parks Foundation, New York Junior Tennis & Learning, and Harlem Junior Tennis & Education Program, amongst others.
The event was sponsored by Sports Armor, the official sports drink of the US Open, and Naomi Osaka who teamed up to refurbish the courts. Consequently, participants had an unlimited supply of Sports Armor drinks throughout the hot afternoon. Participants received a free racquet donated by Yonex, one of Osaka’s sponsors. Lunch and a gift bag were also provided to the junior tennis players.
Returning to the public courts that she grew up playing on was significant to Osaka and the community. One local resident, Jarvis Lewis, who also learned the sport on the same tennis courts, said that Osaka’s visit was huge. “This is the first time that someone of her stature has come out to support the Liberty tennis community. I really appreciate her returning and showing her face. It’s beautiful,” said Lewis.
With a broad smile beaming across his face, Lewis added: “She was only five when I played with her. She doesn’t remember me, but I remember her.” From looking at the faces of those who attended the event most of them appeared to share Lewis’s sentiment. And it certainly was reflected by those who were clamoring to take a selfie with Osaka.
The unveiling of the courts opened with tennis clinics. Several tennis drills and games were held on 4 of the courts and one court served as a stage for an interview that closed out the event. There were activities for young children and teenagers depending on their skill level. Osaka even hit some balls with several groups of players.
Four Grand Slam Titles
Since bursting into the WTA’s top 4 with her defeat of Serena Williams in the final of the 2018 US Open Women’s Singles Final, Osaka’s career has taken off. Osaka has added, two Australian Open Singles Championship titles, along with a second the US Open Singles title that she earned in 2020. Winning a total of four Grand Slam titles and other accomplishments have earned her a place in tennis and sports history. For example, Osaka is the first Asian tennis player to be ranked number 1 by the WTA.
Osaka was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father. When she was 3 years old, the family moved to the United States. However, it would be at the Liberty Park tennis courts in Jamaica that Osaka learned how to hit the ball. Osaka’s father was inspired to coach his two daughter’s tennis by the example of Richard Williams, the father of Venus and Serena Williams.
Highest Paid Woman Athlete
According to Forbes magazine, Osaka became the highest-earning female athlete of all time based upon the $60 million earned during a 12-month period from 2020 to 2021. She even surpassed her own record by more than $25 million that includes a hefty endorsement portfolio ranging from Beats Electronics to TAG Heuer. Her earnings have also surpassed Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, two of the WTA’s veteran players.
Osaka is also an activist. For example, during the height of the national outrage against police killings, Osaka flew out to Minneapolis where she joined protesters honoring George Floyd. Floyd was a Black man who was killed by a white Minneapolis policeman on May 26, 2020. Floyd’s horrific murder by officer Derek Chauvin was recorded by a teenage bystander. For over nine minutes, Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck killing him.
However, it would be Osaka’s wearing of face masks with the names of victims of police killings during the 2020 US Open that expressed her courage. For each of her matches, including the championship, Osaka wore a mask displaying the name of a victim of police brutality. It was a compelling and creative way to voice her protest.
Upon hearing about the devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti several weeks ago, Osaka pledged her entire prize money from the Southern & Western Open Tennis Tournament in Cincinnati, Ohio. “I’m about to play a tournament this week and I’ll give all the prize money to relief efforts for Haiti. I know our ancestors’ blood is strong and we’ll keep rising,” said Osaka via Twitter.
In 2020, Osaka was included amongst Sports Illustrated Sportspersons of the Year. That same year she was also included on Time magazine’s 100 influential people in the world. Without a doubt, Osaka is not just the holder of four Grand Slam titles and a former world number one.
Naomi Osaka is a humanitarian, a unique person who looks backward like a Sankofa bird seeking to create and shape a better future for us all.