PARIS (Reuters) - A third-round loser in her debut appearance at Roland Garros, Japanese teenager Naomi Osaka is not yet the household name she aspires to be.
But the self-styled “child of the internet” is quite a character, as tennis fans around the globe are starting to discover.
Despite the 18-year-old’s claims that “the Internet has raised me” she is in fact the child of a Japanese mother and Haitian father. Born in Osaka, she has lived in the United States since the age of three.
Although she holds dual U.S.-Japanese citizenship, her father-turned-coach Leonard Francois advised her to represent the country of her birth because of the opportunities available to her.
But representing Japan does pose problems for a teenager who has yet to come to grips with her mother’s mother tongue.
As is standard in tennis press conferences, players are expected to field questions in English and then in their own national language.
At the Australian Open in January, however, Osaka timidly pleaded for “English only” questions.
Four months on, when the moderator at Roland Garros asked Osaka “do you want to take Japanese questions?” after she had been beaten by 2014 runner-up Simona Halep, she hesitantly nodded her approval in front of a throng of Japanese reporters.
She intently listened to the question and then opened her mouth to answer — except the words flowing out were all in English. With the Japanese journalist looking rather puzzled for few seconds, Osaka quipped: “Oh, but I am going to answer in English.”
Cue a chorus of laughter.
While she has some way to go before she can fulfil her “main priority” of speaking fluent Japanese, she did not hesitate when it came to outlining her tennis master-plan.
“At the risk of sounding really arrogant, I kind of think that I can play like the top-10 players,” said the 101st ranked Osaka, who until Friday had never faced a top-10 opponent.
“I feel like I can play with anybody. I just have to be consistent and not freak out all the time.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m a mean person while I’m saying this... but I feel like I have the strokes and the power.”
There was plenty of evidence of her strokes and power on Friday as Osaka threatened to cause an upset after taking the first set off Halep.
The Romanian sixth seed, however, relied on her wealth of experience to stage a comeback and at least for now, stop Osaka’s charge to the top.
“I’m just gonna take this as a learning lesson, because it’s better than how I played in Australian Open third round,” Osaka said. “I want to be No. 1 and win a lot of grand slams and play the Olympics and Fed Cup.”
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Larry King