EXCLUSIVE: Naomi Osaka dreamed she would LOSE matches to end her tennis career and wanted to ‘buy a farm and grow crops instead,’ new biography claims
- Upcoming biography, Naomi Osaka: Her Journey to Finding Her Power and Her Voice, gives a closer look at the tennis champ’s inner turmoil despite her success
- ‘I had to go play my match and I was thinking in my head – like, wow, I hope this girl beats me so I don’t have to be here anymore,’ Naomi is quoted as saying
- The author writes that pressure from her father Leonard Francois left her suffering from depression and with feelings of inferiority
There are ambitious and driven ‘stage parents’ who drive their sons and daughters to do anything and everything in order to become stars.
And then there’s Leonard Francois, who came to the mean streets of New York from poverty in Haiti and with drive, ambition and lots of chutzpah practically forced his daughter, Naomi Osaka, to become one of the world’s top tennis players.
But because of all the parental pressure, Osaka would suffer from severe depression, terrible feelings of inferiority – even after defeating Serena Williams in the US Open in 2018 – and be beset by strange voices in her head as she became the world’s #1 with her 150mph serve and powerful forehand.
Along with breaking records, she became hugely wealthy with product endorsements.
But Naomi, now 26, is seemingly one unhappy multimillionaire tennis star, based on sportswriter Ben Rothenberg’s new biography, Naomi Osaka: Her Journey to Finding Her Power and Her Voice.
‘The lingering sense of dissatisfaction has been difficult for Naomi to shake,’ writes Rothenberg, who followed the four-time Grand Slam winner on tour.
Upcoming biography, Naomi Osaka: Her Journey to Finding Her Power and Her Voice, gives a closer look at the tennis champ’s inner turmoil despite her success
The author writes that pressure from her father Leonard Francois left Osaka suffering from depression and with feelings of inferiority
Naomi would suffer from severe depression and terrible feelings of inferiority – even after defeating Serena Williams in the U.S. Open in 2018
Defeating Serena Williams had actually left her weeping on the court during successive matches and hoping that her opponent would beat her.
‘I don’t know what this feeling is. I don’t know how to describe it and how to fix it. I guess I’m going to have to live with it for the rest of my life,’ Naomi confessed.
Osaka has spoken of her struggles with mental health. She appeared alongside swimmer Michael Phelps and US surgeon general Vivek Murthy at this year’s US Open.
As a child growing up in poverty and being pushed to play tennis by her power-hungry father, one of Osaka’s main pleasures was beating her smaller, older sister at tennis.
Upcoming biography, Naomi Osaka: Her Journey to Finding Her Power and Her Voice is out January 2024
As Naomi recalls, ‘I don’t remember liking to hit the ball. The main thing was that I wanted to beat my sister.’ Naomi had shot up to 5’11’ to her sister Mari’s 5’5′.
As Osaka has confessed publicly, ‘I have two inner voices, and usually I try to listen to the one that’s very nice. I would describe her as a ”she” and she’s very soft spoken and positive. But then sometimes when I’m on the tennis court, it’s like a different voice that’s stern.’
It had all become so overwhelming for her that she found herself crying during play and declining to appear for post-match meetings with the press.
Dissatisfied after reaching No. 1 in the world and being the highest paid female athlete earning tens of millions of dollars, ‘Naomi seems well on her way to her goal of becoming the first billionaire female athlete,’ writes Rothenberg.
She’s surpassed only by Roger Federer, LeBron James and Tiger Woods in earnings, but Osaka still wasn’t satisfied and asked her mother if she could have done more by age 22 – and even questioned whether her victories were acceptable.
Few doubted Naomi’s talent to play world-class tennis, but ‘what is less certain, however, is her mental readiness,’ Rothenberg writes.
‘I just woke up one day in Charleston before one of my matches thinking what is the point of my life,’ the author quotes Osaka.
‘I was thinking, should I just go buy a farm and grow crops. And then I had to go play my match and I was thinking in my head – like, wow, I hope this girl beats me so I don’t have to be here anymore.’
Sobbing, she asked her coach why this was so depressing. He thought maybe she was just tired and burned out, according to the author. At one point, he noted that she wept on the court in Beijing while endorsement contracts multiplied.
Her emotional issues seemingly all go back to Daddy.
Growing up, Naomi would spend the days on the court training and be home schooled at night by her mother
The author writes that Naomi suffered crippling shyness as a child and socialized only with her family
Naomi is pictured with her mother Tamaki, sister Mari and father Leonard. Watching the French Open in 1999, Leonard was surprised at the performance of sisters Venus and Serena Williams, and an idea struck him – this could be his girls playing championship tennis
Leonard Francois had moved from poverty-riddled Haiti to Brooklyn, New York, in his teens, became a U.S. citizen and drove a cab for a living.
He had visited Japan, decided to move there and established a small business selling imported American streetwear brands.
It was there that he met and married Tamaki Osaka, whose father was against the union, warning his daughter, ‘You’re going to be homeless in America and die on the side of the road,’ according to the author.
The family chose to use the wife’s surname because they thought it was simpler.
Watching the French Open in 1999, Leonard was surprised at the performance of sisters Venus and Serena Williams, and an idea struck him – this could be his girls playing championship tennis.
He returned to New York with Tamaki and their two young daughters, settling in a poor Haitian neighborhood and dreaming of greatness, watching videos of ‘King’ Richard Williams coaching his daughters.
Meanwhile, Tamaki became the family’s sole breadwinner working low-pay office jobs and home schooling her daughters while Leonard, considering himself an athlete, attempted to teach Naomi and Mari tennis on crumbling public courts.
According to the author, Naomi and her sister had neither friends in childhood, nor social development.
‘My parents weren’t exactly the richest, so what am I going to do? I’m not really the smartest,’ Osaka said. ‘It’s either I have to be the best or I’m going to be homeless. Naomi is pictured at the 2018 US Open with her parents
Few doubted Naomi’s talent to play world-class tennis, but ‘what is less certain, however, is her mental readiness,’ Rothenberg writes
Osaka has won two US Opens and two Australian Opens but has never gone beyond the third round at either Wimbledon or the French Open
The family was so poor that when the girls asked to go ice skating in Rockefeller Center, ‘Tamaki poured oil on the floor of their home and told them to slide around on that,’ writes the author.
For years, Naomi suffered crippling shyness and socialized only with her family. Her mother cooked dinner while she played video games with her sister, Mari, now 27. Naomi called herself a child of the Internet and spent hours online playing games.
She had only two friends and found it difficult talking with anyone other than just saying hello.
A move to Florida was inevitable for the family. It was ‘where dreamers from around the world chased after fuzzy hopes of tennis fame and fortune’, writes Rothenberg.
Roaming from park to park in the south Florida suburbs in search of cheap or free public courts, Leonard hooked up with tennis coaches willing to help train the girls in exchange for his promise to pay them later.
‘No one knew who they were – without affiliation with a major academy or national federation – so the Osaka girls were unsupported and isolated,’ according to the author.
As Naomi recalled thinking of those dark days, ‘My parents weren’t exactly the richest, so what am I going to do? I’m not really the smartest. It’s either I have to be the best or I’m going to be homeless,’ writes Rothenberg.
Despite the free coaching Naomi received that had helped her become an iconic and wealthy player, her father skipped out on his promise to repay the coaches. Instead, writes Rothenberg, he told them, ‘Get a lawyer.’
Naomi shared photos of her in the hospital after giving birth to her first child – a girl – over the summer
The tennis star posted a photo of her baby girl Shai, which means God’s gift. ‘I wanted her to feel like she was a gift to me and her dad,’ Naomi said
Naomi has been in a relationship with rapper Cordae since 2019. The couple pictured in 2020. But Cordae wasn’t around for Naomi’s October 16 birthday and she had scrubbed any mention of him from her Instagram account, according to reports.
Jean Sosa, director of tennis in Pompano Beach who had trained Naomi and Mari for years, said ‘Just a simple thank you would be enough,’ the author writes, but it wasn’t in the cards.
Aside from tennis, Osaka attempted to have a normal private life.
In 2019, she became romantically involved with Grammy-nominated rapper, Cordae, meeting at an LA Clippers game. In July, she delivered their first child, a girl they named Shai.
But Cordae wasn’t around for Naomi’s October 16 birthday and she has scrubbed any mention of him from her Instagram account, according to reports.
Meanwhile, she has confessed that the same dark feelings of self-doubt and loneliness had returned during her first months of motherhood.
But looking into her little girl’s eyes, she declared, ‘Wow, this little person depends on me so much, I have to do better.’
Naomi Osaka: Her Journey to Finding Her Power and Her Voice hits stands January 9. 2024.
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