Osakas' brief sister act in Miami

Naomi says it was 'really enjoyable' despite elder sibling Mari's 6-2, 6-4 loss in first round

Mari Osaka returning a shot to fellow wild card Whitney Osuigwe during the Miami Open at Hard Rock Stadium on Thursday in Miami Gardens, Florida. Mari acquitted herself well despite a 6-2, 6-4 loss.
Mari Osaka returning a shot to fellow wild card Whitney Osuigwe during the Miami Open at Hard Rock Stadium on Thursday in Miami Gardens, Florida. Mari acquitted herself well despite a 6-2, 6-4 loss.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MIAMI • It is a familiar sight to have a top player's sister in the draw of the Miami Open, where this year Venus and Serena Williams are both competing for a 17th time.

But this tournament is the first time at a WTA-level event that top-ranked Naomi Osaka was joined in the singles main draw by her older sister, Mari.

Everyone else in women's tennis is ranked below Naomi Osaka right now, including Mari, 22, who is ranked 338th and normally plays in lower-level events.

She received a wild card for this tournament and played her first WTA main draw match on Thursday against another wild card, 205th-ranked Whitney Osuigwe.

Mari acquitted herself well in a 6-2, 6-4 loss.

Naomi, who is 18 months younger than her sister, said that it was "really enjoyable" to have Mari with her at a tournament and she hoped there will be more of such experiences in the future.

"For me, it would be a dream," said the Japanese, who played Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium yesterday with the result of their match not available at press time.

"Because I don't really talk to that many people, and she's the nicer one in this relationship. It would definitely mean a lot."

Although siblings like the Williamses have risen to the peaks of the sport, siblings with far different career altitudes are more common.

Naomi's opposite number, top-ranked Novak Djokovic, had two younger brothers who struggled in the large shadow he cast.

Despite receiving many wild cards, Marko Djokovic reached a career-high ranking of No. 571; Djordje Djokovic reached No. 1,463.

Marko, 27, now coaches and competes only occasionally, while Djordje, 23, stopped competing in 2015.

Novak, 31, said his brothers' decisions to step back from tennis had come as a relief to him.

"I'm glad they've decided themselves what they want to do, not my decision or my parents' or anybody else," Novak said.

"Because in this kind of circumstance, they feel obliged, or they feel pressure that they have to meet the expectations of the other brother or sister. It's not ideal."

Siblings of top players have often drafted off that familial fame to get started in their careers, but the main draw wild card for Mari raised many eyebrows around the tournament, considering she was ranked more than 200 spots below the cut for the qualifying draw for this elite event.

James Blake, the Miami Open tournament director, said the decision to double the number of Osakas in the draw had been an easy one.

"Obviously, Naomi is someone who's accomplished so much, and you want to encourage her sister as well," Blake said.

"You wonder if there's a lot of talent and she hasn't had the same opportunities."

It is rarer for the younger sibling to make a splash on tour first. For most of their childhoods, Mari had dominated her younger sister in practice matches.

But, as Naomi continued to soar upward, Mari's trajectory stalled; her career-best ranking was 280th in May.

Her first match this season was a 6-0, 6-0 loss to 471st-ranked Katie Volynets, a far cry from the competitive level she showed on Thursday.

"It was just super exciting and new for me," Mari said of the experience playing at the Miami Open.

"I'm super thankful that I actually got it (the wild card)."

Asked if she was able to focus on her own path or felt she had "big shoes to fill", Mari said: "I'm really proud of her (Naomi).

"My own journey is separate, but of course I tend to compare a little bit, so it's frustrating.

"But not much I can do about that."



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2019, with the headline 'Osakas' brief sister act in Miami'. Subscribe