TIME

HER TURN

NAOMI OSAKA IS READY TO BECOME THE NEW FACE OF TENNIS
Osaka, 21, embodies an international sport: raised in the U.S. by a mother from Japan and a father from Haiti, she is the first major tennis champion from Japan

ON A WET DECEMBER MORNING IN A SOUTH FLORIDA weight room, the 21-year-old who stunned Serena Williams at the U.S. Open is hard at work preparing to show that the biggest moment of her life was more than a fluke. As an arrow flashes on an iPad in front of her, Naomi Osaka darts in the direction it signals, pauses, then pivots when it sends her the other way, without missing a step. Her coach, Sascha Bajin, joins the drill but leaps the wrong way and almost lands on Osaka’s ankle. Bajin feigns horror, prompting fellow pro tour player Monica Puig to suggest Osaka give her coach a hug. “She gives hugs like no other,” Bajin says, his sarcasm thicker than midsummer heat. “I only hug people I like,” Osaka parries.

The exchange would be unremarkable were it between almost anyone else. But Bajin’s playful banter is a key part of his strategy to break his young charge out of her shell. And for Osaka, a precocious talent in a global sport with the kind of multinational background that marketers dream about, doing so could mean the difference between a career like that of the idol she upset at the Open—or, well, a fluke. “It’s easier to take over the world,” Bajin says, “if you’re not so caved in.”

Many people’s introduction to Osaka came in September at the U.S. Open trophy presentation, when the surprise champion covered her eyes with her visor as boos rained from the crowd. “I didn’t want people to see me crying,” Osaka tells TIME, “because that’s pathetic.”

The moment should have been celebratory—a rising star assuming her place among champions after defeating the greatest of them all. Instead, it was painful. Thousands of fans, livid that umpire Carlos Ramos assessed Williams

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from TIME

TIME5 min read
We Still Need Justice For Jamal
Oct. 2, 2018, was the last day I would wake up to a normal life like everyone else, full of hopes and desires. Who would have known that it would be the last day I saw my fiancé, Jamal Khashoggi? Who would have known that when I left the house, I wou
TIME10 min read
The Resistance
IRAN’S PRESIDENT ARRIVED IN NEW York City in September and left, as usual, without meeting the American one. Both Hassan Rouhani and Donald Trump professed an appetite for sitting down and talking over the ever more treacherous rift between their nat
TIME1 min read
Jacques Chirac
JACQUES CHIRAC—WHO DIED on Sept. 26 at 86— towered over French politics for nearly four decades, as mayor of Paris, Prime Minister and finally President for 12 years. To some, he seemed to lack strong views or convictions. But to others, he now seems