ROLAND GARROS

Non-native New Yorker Osaka still walking in Paris

Naomi Osaka has three dreams: to meet Serena Williams, play at the Olympics and learn to speak Japanese, the language of her birth country.

Non-native New Yorker Osaka still walking in Paris
MARTIN BUREAU AFP

Naomi Osaka has three dreams: to meet Serena Williams, play at the Olympics and to learn to speak Japanese, the language of her birth country.

Osaka made the French Open third round on Wednesday having not played the tournament before and failing to win a match at all on clay this season. After beating Croatian veteran Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, the 18-year-old faced questions from English-speaking reporters and answered nervously in English.

She then listened patiently to questions fired at her in Japanese, but again replied in English with a smattering of Japanese words thrown in for good measure, apologising and making a mental note that she has to work on her ‘nihon’. “Oh my god, I have to work on my Japanese. This is terrible,” she told her compatriots having asked for Japanese translations of words she was using. If she had misunderstood, she playfully slapped her forehead in exasperation.

Naomi Osaka

Her confusion is understandable. Osaka was born in the city with the same name as her own surname to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father. But when she was three, the family moved to New York where her father's family live, hence her tendency to get tongue-tied when confronted with the language of the country in which she was born.

“It's a country that I love,” said Osaka as she pondered playing the Olympics in Rio this year. That may remain a distant dream as her world ranking is currently at 101 and she is only the number four in Japan behind Misaki Doi, Nao Hibino and Kurumi Nara.

Serena Williams remains an idol for the 5ft 11in (1.8m) Osaka who made the third round with a 6-3, 6-3 win over world number 52 Lucic-Baroni. The Croatian had first played Roland Garros in 1999 when Osaka was just 18 months old. It's the second successive Grand Slam event where Osaka has made the third round having achieved the same mark as a qualifier at the Australian Open in January. There it took former world number one Victoria Azarenka to stop her.

This time around, Osaka admits she took a peek at the draw and was shattered to see Serena Williams in the other half. “I was disappointed but then I'm like, okay, so maybe I have a chance to win my rounds then,” she said. “I haven't really seen Serena that often. Which I don't know if I'm sad or happy, because then I don't have to like be all freaked out.”

Having been as high as 92 in the world in April, Osaka's next aim is to reach the top 75 and then aim for better. But first she has to get past Romanian sixth seed Simona Halep on Friday for a place in the last 16. “She's someone I have watched on the TV a lot. So it's the same thing as Australian Open, I play someone big in the third round and I'll try to have fun,” she said.