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How a trip to Haiti had a profound effect on world No. 1 tennis player Naomi Osaka

World No. 1 tennis player Naomi Osaka, a Boca Raton resident of Japanese-Haitian heritage, was given a hero’s welcome during a November 2018 visit to Haiti. NAOMI OSAKA

When a courtside reporter at the Australian Open last year asked Naomi Osaka how proud she felt representing her American and Japanese cultures, Osaka quickly and politely set the record straight: “Of course, I’m very honored to be playing for Japan. But my Dad’s side is Haitian, so represent.”

She then held up a peace sign, and smiled, a gesture that was felt all the way in her father’s hometown of Jacmel, Haiti, where she spent five unforgettable, life-changing days in November.

Osaka, the world’s top-ranked tennis player, was born in Japan, has a Japanese mother and surname and is a superstar in Japan, where she has lucrative endorsement deals with Nissin noodles, Nissan Motor, Yonex racket company, Citizen watches and Shiseido cosmetics. More than 50 Japanese reporters covered her win at the Australian Open in January, and many of them will be at Hard Rock Stadium over the next two weeks chronicling Osaka’s every move at the Miami Open.

The 21-year-old Boca Raton resident is fiercely proud of her Japanese background, although she was raised in New York and South Florida since age 3 and is more comfortable speaking English than Japanese. What is sometimes overlooked — much to her dismay — is that Osaka is equally appreciative of her Haitian heritage, especially after her recent trip to Haiti, her second visit to the island.

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