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Naomi Osaka’s message to young Asian players: embrace your unique backgrounds and cultures

For Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, USA TODAY Sports conducted an email interview with tennis star Naomi Osaka. Born in Japan to a Haitian-American father and a Japanese mother, Osaka is a former No. 1 ranked singles player, the first Asian player to do so. She is a four-time Grand Slam champion and is scheduled to play at Roland Garros next week.

Osaka is also co-founder of Hana Kuma (meaning flower bear in Japanese), a multicultural, Emmy-nominated design house. Hana Kuma recently partnered with the LPGA to develop personal branding campaigns for golfers. She also launched a mental health video podcast series called “I Can’t Wait to Hear From You.”

Since it’s Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I wanted to ask how tennis has overall treated you as a person of Asian and Haitian descent. Have you ever been treated with the same kind of hostility, for example, as the Williams sisters early in their careers, because of your ethnicity?

I felt like I was welcomed with open arms for the most part. There were a few exceptions, but overall I like how I grew and felt supported.

Being of Japanese and Haitian descent is my source of strength. Having diverse life experiences has made me more tolerant, more tolerant and more curious. Although I naturally speak softly, a trait inherited from my Japanese side, I believe my fierce competitiveness comes from my Haitian roots.

What would be your message to Asian players striving to become professionals?

I would encourage Asian tennis players to embrace their unique backgrounds and cultures because that is what makes them who they are. I think Asian countries love to support their own. Growing up, I admired Li Na. There is so much emerging talent from countries like China and Japan and there is no reason why Asian players can’t continue to be dominant figures in the sport.

Naomi Osaka at the 2022 US Open.Naomi Osaka at the 2022 US Open.

Naomi Osaka at the 2022 US Open.

You have been extremely courageous in your fight against racism, particularly against anti-Black racism, and especially in 2020, and also since. When you look at America today, have things improved since 2020 in terms of race? Or worse? Or the same?

From wearing different masks during the 2020 US Open, each honoring a victim of racial injustice and police brutality, to speaking out on social media, to supporting equality organizations, and to Joining protests is my way of raising awareness and honoring the black lives that have been lost. I think my generation is very openly demanding change. People are more willing to speak out and stand up for justice. Although we have made some steps forward, there is still much work to be done. I am committed to using my platform to make a difference and fight racism in any way possible.

How would you describe your tennis game right now in one word?

Assertive

What are you most proud of in your game right now?

I would say I am most proud of my tenacity. I knew coming back from pregnancy would be a long and difficult road, but I trust the process, stay focused and take it one day at a time.

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What inspired you to create “Can’t Wait To Hear From You?”

I am someone who gets lost in my own thoughts. I thought it would be cool to create a podcast where we get an insight into the minds of leaders from various industries and fields. I have been incredibly lucky to receive so much love and support from my close circle and fans. I hope this video podcast series will encourage people to have open discussions about mental health and self-esteem while feeling less shame.

What are the biggest mental health challenges facing professional athletes like you?

Tennis is a very exhausting sport, both physically and mentally. I always say that great tennis players must have short memories. Whether you just lost a point or an entire match, you need to be able to quickly reset and move on. During the season you play almost every week, so you don’t have time to dwell on the previous event. Being able to mentally reset and not think too much about the past is an important aspect of tennis, no matter what level you compete at.

What is the next big project for your production company?

We develop incredible content and experiences in sports, fashion and women’s empowerment. Keep an eye on Hana Kuma at Wimbledon as we prepare to make a major impact and shake things up in a big way.

The LPGA partnership: what inspired it and how did it happen?

Throughout my career, I have received so much love and support from my fellow female athletes. With Hana Kuma, I want to pay it forward by helping to empower and advocate for LPGA players, providing them with the tools and resources to invest in themselves. and build a future beyond their sport. Together, we can continue to elevate and inspire the next generation of female athletes.

We teamed up with eight incredible global athletes and hosted an in-person workshop for the entire LPGA player base, inspiring them to think “beyond the green” when it comes to building their brand.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Naomi Osaka tells young Asian players to embrace their culture