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‘Naomi Osaka’: An Insider Look at the Tennis Star’s Power and Voice

‘Naomi Osaka’: An Insider Look at the Tennis Star’s Power and Voice

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Naomi Osaka became a household name overnight after beating Serena Williams at the 2018 US Open Final in tennis. Since then, she has proven to be a force to be reckoned with — on and off the court.

Naomi Osaka: Her Journey to Finding Her Power and Her Voice, by Ben Rothenberg, covers her life from her own birth to the birth of her daughter. Prior to reading this book, I did not know much about her life, other than her professional tennis career. After reading this book, I have so much respect and admiration for this amazing young woman.

Osaka is a powerhouse both because of her physical strength and the impact of her words. I sense that the author really knows her personally, and I sincerely hope that she feels good about how she was portrayed.

The first half of the book covers her childhood, which involved a move from Japan to the United States so that she and her older sister Mari could train in tennis from a very early age. The dedication of their parents is truly inspiring.

The second half of the book covers Osaka’s incredible career, tournament by tournament, match by match. Rothenberg captured the athlete’s comments and press interviews in her own words, which gave an authentic view of Osaka. She is a model of great sportsmanship and has paved the way for athletes from all backgrounds because of her bravery to fight for her own mental health.

The 2018 US Open Final match between Osaka and Serena Williams has been labeled controversial due to an on-court dispute between the two competitors and the awarding of a game penalty to Williams. Rothenberg gives insight into what really happened in that match, as well as in the locker room following the wins and losses, and explores how Osaka’s relationship with her idol has grown and evolved since that time.  

What I found endearing is that Osaka just wanted to impress Williams, beyond anything. She idolized Williams and put her on a pedestal. She found it an honor to compete against her. With that being said, it’s outrageous that our society, in particular the media, is so obsessed with pitting women against each other. Whether it’s in sports, on reality shows, or in real life, women are constantly being told they have to act, do, or be better than their peers.

This is especially true for Black women, many of whom unfortunately feel they have to go above and beyond the norm because society expects less of them. Unlike male public figures, women of color are put in situations in the media where they are unfairly compared to one another.

A key highlight for me was Chapter 28: “The Names on Her Lips,” wherein Rothenberg recounts Osaka’s pivotal 2020 US Open campaign. The chapter highlights her court achievements, including her victory in the final to win her third major title. More importantly, Osaka famously sported seven different masks en route to her seven different wins, each inscribed with the name of an innocent Black man or woman murdered in racially-motivated killings: George Floyd, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, and Trayvon Martin.

Rothenberg doesn’t t just list each of the murder victims named but also gives a brief description of who they were and what happened to them. He also details how Osaka herself encouraged people to learn these stories and how that encouragement led to citizens of her native Japan, who were not likely to know about the Black Lives Matter movement, to research and educate themselves.

I also admired the reflection on the media landscape in Chapter 33, “Read All About It,” which focuses on Osaka’s decision to withdraw first from press at the 2021 French Open and then from the tournament itself. As a journalist himself, Rothenberg combines respect for Osaka’s decisions, sensitivity to mental health, and consideration of the importance of the media to advancing women’s sports — especially women’s tennis in the early days of the Women’s Tennis Association. Learning about Osaka’s childhood and the less illustrious career of her sister Mari was also very interesting.

Oftentimes, I find that biographies don’t feel well-researched and the author has no real connection with the individual. Because of Rothenberg’s position as one of the world’s top tennis journalists, he was able to get access to not only Osaka, her family, and her team but also other players, coaches, media, and those involved in the tennis world.

This, in my opinion, made a tremendous difference in telling her story. While Osaka is quite prolific in her social media use, she has said that it takes time for her to process things, and therefore this book gives her a chance to contemplate on events long past. It paints a full picture of the person she is and her world.

Today, Osaka is one of the highest-paid and most closely followed women athletes in the world, even after a hiatus. As she returns to the court, she continues to evolve and stand up for her beliefs. She has pioneered a new roadmap for young superstar athletes, and she appears poised to continue trailblazing.

I give this book a 5/5 stars and definitely recommend it for tennis fans as well as those wanting to learn more about Osaka’s life. The detail of individual scores and matches might be heavy for less die-hard fans of the sport, but I do believe Osaka’s appeal and influence are universal.

Naomi Osaka: Her Journey to Finding Her Power and Her Voice is available January 9, 2024.

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