Naomi Osaka stays mum on lawsuit by ex-coach

Japan's Naomi Osaka holding the WTA world No. 1 trophy during an event at the Miami Open on Wednesday.
Japan's Naomi Osaka holding the WTA world No. 1 trophy during an event at the Miami Open on Wednesday.PHOTO: AFP

MIAMI • Women's tennis world No. 1 Naomi Osaka refused on Wednesday to become embroiled in a dispute with one of her former coaches, who is suing her for 20 per cent of her career earnings.

Christophe Jean, who helped the Japanese two-time Grand Slam champion when she was a junior, wants at least US$2 million (S$2.72 million) of her US$10 million in earnings to date.

Jean insists Osaka's father, Leonard Francois, had signed a contract when he was coaching the 21-year-old and her sister Mari in 2011.

He claims that the terms of the deal stated that he will get 20 per cent of Osaka's future earnings as her family were unable to pay the going rate for coaching then.

Osaka's attorney Alex Spiro described the lawsuit as a "false claim" that has no merit.

"I'm not allowed to say anything. I am unable to make a comment," Osaka said at a news conference ahead of this week's Miami Open.

Spiro, however, said Jean was an opportunist looking to cash in.

"While it comes as no surprise that Naomi's meteoric rise as an international icon and inspiration would lead to some false claim, this silly 'contract' that Naomi never saw or signed - which purports to give away part of herself at the age of 14 - is particularly absurd," Spiro told Reuters in an e-mail.

"This case has no merit and we will move past it."

The Miami Open is being staged at Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins, for the first time after decades at Key Biscayne.

After losing in the last 16 while defending her title at Indian Wells, Osaka hopes to regain the form that has seen her win the past two Grand Slam titles at this year's Australian Open and last year's US Open.

"Everyone knows that Indian Wells and Miami are like two Slams so I feel there is a lot of motivation to win these tournaments," she said.

"Beating Serena Williams in Miami last year was such a good memory - the first time I had played her - and I came straight off winning Indian Wells.

"I just wanted to test myself against her and from then on it felt like a dream.

"To win here would mean so much. I grew up watching so many great players winning here. Just to come from being a kid in the audience to be the person holding the trophy would be special."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2019, with the headline 'Osaka stays mum on lawsuit by ex-coach'. Print Edition | Subscribe