Sep 7

WIT Life #328: Making Japanese History at the U.S. Open


Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Being an avid tennis fan, I was thrilled when my clients asked me if I wanted to join them at the U.S. Open women’s semifinals last night.  I was especially excited because not only would I get to see Serena during her “Don’t call it a comeback” tour, but I would get to see Japanese rising tennis superstar Naomi Osaka play live for the first time.  Naomi set a personal record by reaching her first Grand Slam quarterfinal here, and she and Kei Nishikori together made history by becoming the first Japanese duo to reach the semifinals of the same Grand Slam tournament.  The last time Japanese players advanced into the later rounds simultaneously was back in 1996, when Shuzo Matsuoka and Kimiko Date reached their respective quarterfinals at Wimbledon (Shuzo incidentally was Kei’s coach in Japan when he was 12).

Coincidentally enough, Naomi Osaka (大坂なおみ) was born in the same city as her last name (大阪) to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father.  When she was 3, they moved to the U.S. with her and her older sister Mari, also a tennis player, but for the sake of their tennis careers their father made the savvy decision that they would represent Japan.  It’s refreshing that despite not being fluent in Japanese and not being purely Japanese, she has a huge backing in Japan.  At the match last night, a Haitian group was sitting behind us and enthusiastically calling out her name at regular intervals.  We ended up chatting and one guy explained that Haitian fans want to claim her as their own, and that they get frustrated when she is described as only “Japanese” as opposed to “Haitian-Japanese.”

She and opponent Sloane Stephens slugged it out with their amazingly powerful ground strokes, some rallies going as long as 18 points.  In her post-match comments, when asked why she was able to continuously hold serve despite Sloane’s 13 break chances, Naomi said, “It’s bad to say, but I want to play Serena!”  It will be a huge test for her both physically and emotionally to try and beat her tennis idol to win her first Grand Slam title.

Moving onto the men’s side, I’ve written about Kei (aka “Air K” due to his famous jumping forehand shot) here before.  In 2014 he made it to the finals but ended up losing to Marin Cilic, the opponent he defeated to earn his spot in this year’s semis.  Currently Nadal and Del Porto are still battling it out, but I’m eagerly awaiting tonight’s second match pairing Kei with Novak Djokovic.  It’s likely to start after 7 pm, perfect for tennis fans in Japan to wake up early Saturday morning and cheer on their compatriot.  Ganbare Kei!


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