As Naomi Osaka recently made history by beating Serena Williams at the U.S. Open, comparisons are swirling between she and her sister, Mari, and Venus and Serena Williams.
The sister duos have something very obvious in common, being two sets of black women who have risen through the ranks of tennis to the highest competitive level. But there’s another connection between the two sets of siblings that’s lesser known: both of their fathers are their respective coaches. What’s more, Naomi and Mari Osaka’s father, Leonard Francois, actually emulated his coaching style off of Richard Williams.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Francois Taught His Daughters How to Play Tennis Based Off of Richard Williams’ Coaching Style
In a profile of Naomi Osaka in The New York Times, Francois explained that he decided to get his two daughters involved in tennis after watching the Williams sisters perform in 1999; Naomi and Mari Osaka were just toddlers at the time.
Brook Larmer of The New York Times wrote, “Francois became transfixed by a broadcast of the French Open featuring the American prodigies Venus and Serena Williams, then 18 and 17, who teamed up to win the doubles title that year. Francois played little tennis. But Richard Williams, the sisters’ father and coach, had played none at all. And Williams had created a plan to turn his daughters into champions, teaching them how to serve big and hit hard from every corner of the court. ‘The blueprint was already there,’ Francois told me. ‘I just had to follow it.'”
2. Leonard Francois Trained His Daughters on Clay Courts Because Richard Williams Taught His Daughters on Clay Courts
According to the U.S. Open’s official site, Francois taught his daughters to play tennis on outdoor clay courts because Richard Williams had done that with his daughters. In a press conference, Naomi Osaka cited how similar her tennis upbringing was to that of Serena Williams’. She said, For me, one of the main things was that when I was practicing with my dad, if my sister wasn’t there, I don’t think I would have made it. I think maybe [Serena and I] both have this really big sister connection.”
Williams has also cited her family presence as one of the most influential on her tennis careers, describing her sister as her toughest opponent. To The Washington Post, Williams said, “Nobody has ever beaten me as much as Venus has.”
3. Both Richard Williams & Leonard Francois Moved Their Families to Florida & Eventually Chose to Homeschool Their Girls
Both the Osaka sisters and the Williams sisters received their tennis training primarily in Florida: the Williams family moved to West Palm Beach from Los Angeles when Venus and Serena were 10 and 9, respectively, and the Osaka family moved to Fort Lauderdale from Japan when Mari and Naomi were four and three, respectively.
In addition to moving their families, both men eventually decided to homeschool their girls. Of his decision, Richard Williams said, “Everyone does different things. I think for Venus and [Serena] and I, we just attempted a different road, and it worked for us.”
4. Naomi Osaka Originally Didn’t Like Hitting the Ball, According to a NYT Interview
According to The New York Times, Francois’ training plan included, instructional books, DVDs, and making his two daughters hit thousands of balls every day. Naomi Osaka said to The New York Times of her early training, “I don’t remember liking to hit the ball. The main thing was that I wanted to beat my sister. For her, it wasn’t a competition, but for me, every day was a competition. Every day I’d say, ‘I’m going to beat you tomorrow.’”
Richard Williams’ training plan was extremely rigorous; he revealed in an interview that he’d written a 70 page “manifesto” for his daughters’ training program before they were even born. He said to CTV’s Canada AM, “Before they were born, a lot people used to think I was crazy because I used to walk around with a sign, ‘number 1 girls in the world’ — so my expectations of my girls grew and grew.”
5. Though Naomi Osaka Was Raised in the United States From Age Three Onward, She Chose to Represent Japan as a Tennis Player
The Osaka sisters and the Williams sisters might both have grown up playing tennis mostly in Florida, but Naomi Osaka actually represents Japan when she plays tennis. According to The New York Times, this is for one specific reason: funding. The Japan Tennis Federation had more funding to offer to the Osaka sisters, so they opted to represent it over the United States. Of the experience of growing up in a Haitian-Japanese home, Osaka has said, “I don’t necessarily feel like I’m American. I wouldn’t know what that feels like.”