Naomi Osaka Reunites With Her Father And Reinvigorates Her Career After Setbacks And Mental Health Struggles

Image Credit: Twitter @kreyolicious

Naomi Osaka is beginning to look like the tennis player that broke out from the fray and won four Grand Slams in the women’s singles. She returned to action at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic with a familiar face in tow, her father, Leonard Francois, and defeated Zheng Qinwen 6-4, 3-6, 6-1.

Osaka parted ways with her trainer Wim Fissette late last month. The two began working together in late 2019, ahead of the 2020 season, and helped her become a tennis icon. Fissette explained the partnership dissolution on Instagram.

“It has been a privilege to coach Naomi since 2019 and see her grow into the Champion she has become,” Fissette’s post said. “She has inspired a whole new generation to fall in love with the game & to speak up for what they believe in and it’s been incredible to play a part in that journey.”

However, Osaka famously won a pair of titles back-to-back in Tokyo and Beijing in 2019, with her father, and is looking to regain her undeniable spark with him. It all comes down to trust and chemistry built from an eternal paternal bond.

“My dad’s right there,” Osaka said cheerfully during her post-game interview on the court. “He’s the guy wearing sunglasses even though it’s dark outside!”

After exiting the U.S. Open in the fourth-round exit, Osaka turned to her father to handle her coaching duties during the Asian leg. The only issue that has stopped her original coach from taking on the responsibilities full-time is his nerves; he gets nervous every outing that his daughter performs.

“He’s always there, you know. But I don’t think he can handle it,” Osaka said about her father before winning her fifth world title in Beijing with him. “Like, not even just saying this, but he doesn’t like watching my matches. I think it stresses him out because he, like, twitches every time I hit a ball.

“He said he’ll take the [coaching] role very seriously, but I don’t think it’s a long-term thing.”

In 2021, Osaka won the Australian Open, becoming one of only three players in the Open Era to win her first four Grand Slam finals alongside Roger Federer and Monica Seles. However, at the U.S. Open that same year, she failed to defend her title and was so frustrated that she threw her racket, receiving a code violation for hitting a ball into the stands. Later, in the post-match press conference, she revealed that she was not happy winning anymore and would take a break from the sport.

Now Leonard Francois is back, providing the same guidance that has made Osaka one of the top tennis talents in the world.

“The thing with my dad is he keeps it very simple,” Osaka said in 2019. “He knows my personality because, like, he’s my dad. Most of the time he doesn’t even really say anything. He just waits for me to figure it out.”

There is nothing like a father’s love. In tennis — as with legacies like Richard Williams for Venus and Serena  Osaka has the overarching support and advisement that transcends a traditional coach-to-athlete relationship. At the level she is in the sport, it seems like a necessity more than a privilege.

In the end, Francois keeps his daughter laughing, making tennis fun again.

“He hasn’t been around in a little minute so this is our first tournament back together. It’s really good for him to be back because he always makes me smile. I don’t know why, but he’ll tell me things like, ‘You’re a tennis player. Play tennis!’ Like, I know that; you know what I mean?”

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.