Naomi Osaka was born in Osaka, Japan. Her father, Leonard Max Francois, is Haitian and mother, Tamaki, is Japanese.
At the age of three, she moved to Long Island, where her father had lived prior to going to college. A few years later, she moved down to Florida and today lives in Fort Lauderdale.
But, the 20-year-old still calls one place her real home.
“New York is very nostalgic,” said Osaka. “When I come here I always have memories of when I was a kid. Sometimes I walk down the streets I walked down when I was a little kid. Everything feels so much smaller. It’s an interesting feeling.
“But every time I come here, I’m very happy,” said Osaka.
Adding to her joy during this visit is her eye-opening run to her first Grand Slam semifinal on Thursday at the tournament and venue that means the most to her.
“I used to play here when I was a little kid, so these courts aren’t new to me,” Osaka said of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center grounds.
“I always thought if I were to win a Grand Slam, the first one I’d want to win is the US Open, because I have grown up here and then my grandparents can come and watch. I think it would be really cool,” said Osaka, who trounced Lesia Tsurenko, 6-1, 6-1, on Wednesday in less than an hour on another hot afternoon in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The first Japanese woman to make a Grand Slam semifinal since Kimiko Date in 1996 at Wimbledon, Osaka will face No. 14 Madison Keys on Thursday night. The American Keys, a 2017 US Open finalist, defeated No. 30 Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain, 6-4, 6-3, Wednesday night.
The 20th seed has matched the sizzling temperatures this fortnight with some searing play of her own. She has dropped just one set and in her first three matches she lost a total of seven games, highlighted by a 6-0, 6-0 blanking of Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the third round.
Photos: Best of Naomi Osaka at the 2018 US Open
Osaka had made an immediate splash at last year’s Open when she knocked out defending champion Angelique Kerber in the opening round. She made it to the third round before losing.
This year, she returned in the middle of a breakout season. Osaka opened the year with her first fourth-round at a Grand Slam at the Australian Open, before really exploding by winning the prestigious Indian Wells title, beating Maria Sharapova, Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep along the way. The following week, she knocked out Serena Williams in the first round at Miami.
Her success has made her more focused on the court.
“My mentality,” said Osaka. “Like in Indian Wells, I get a bit distracted if I’m in the lead. And now I feel like I’m finding it easier to try to close it up as quickly as I can.
“I fought for every point, I think that’s something that I’ve struggled with in the past. I think I’ve matured a little bit,” she said after her quarterfinal victory.
Being at home in New York, Osaka has been finding the hustle and bustle of the city as a useful tool to prepare for her matches.
“I just like walking in the city,” she said. “It’s just there is a lot of energy. I feel like it’s a good exercise.”