Naomi Osaka sister act primed for Miami Open spotlight

Naomi will be joined in the draw by her 338th-ranked sibling who needed a wildcard to get a place in the tournament.. (Source: AP)

Serena and Venus Williams usually get top billing at the Miami Open but this year there is another sister act vying for the spotlight with world number one Naomi Osaka showing older sibling Mari the ropes. The Williams sisters have hoisted the Miami trophy 11 times between them and all those victories were celebrated at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne.

But this year the tournament has moved to the suburbs and Hard Rock Stadium is Osaka country with Naomi and Mari growing up three miles away and learning to play tennis almost in the shadow of the Hard Rock home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, who are part-owned by the Williams sisters.

Naomi will be joined in the draw by her 338th-ranked sibling who needed a wildcard to get a place in the tournament. "It is a bit weird that I have to give her advice and she is my older sister," Naomi told reporters on Wednesday. "But she has been doing like newbie mistakes.

"Yesterday it rained out all day but she came here at 11 o’clock and her match was the fourth on. "I mean, like, what are you doing? Stuff like that I have to talk to her about."

The 21-year-old U.S.-based Japanese player has taken the tennis world by storm, winning the last two Grand Slams and amassing $10.8 million in prize money while Mari, one year older, tries to claw her way up the rankings with $58,000 in career earnings.

While Naomi now holds sway over her older sister, that was not always the case. "Up until I was 15 she was 6-0ing me, it was ridiculous," the Australian and U.S. Open champion said. "In the win-loss record she is up by a million or something."

Naomi gets a first-round bye while Mari starts her campaign on Thursday against another wildcard in American Whitney Osuigwe. On opposite sides of the draw, the only way the sisters could meet in Miami would be in an all-Osaka final. Even if Mari’s stay ends up being short, however, Naomi is enjoying having her sister by her side.

"It’s nice because you can give each other advice especially if you have played the opponent," Naomi said. "I really enjoy having her around, most of the time we don’t play the same tournaments. "For me I don’t really talk to that many people and she is sort of the nicer one in this relationship."

Mari Osaka’s focus will be getting past the first round and advancing any further would be considered a wild success but Naomi will have loftier objectives. "I actually drove past this (stadium) a lot when I was a kid," she said. "I grew up watching all these great players winning it so just to come from being a kid in the audience to being the one holding the trophy would mean a lot."

Osaka faces lawsuit questions on Miami homecoming

World number one Naomi Osaka arrived at the Miami Open on Wednesday to face questions about a multi-million dollar lawsuit for allegedly failing to honour a contract with a former coach. According to the lawsuit filed in Florida's state court on February 7 and seen by Reuters, Christophe Jean says he began coaching Osaka and older sister Mari in 2011.

Jean says he entered into a services contract with their father Francois in March 2012 that would pay him 20 percent of Osaka’s future earnings. Osaka’s attorney Alex Spiro described the lawsuit as a "false claim" that has no merit. Osaka, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise and won the last two grand slams to reach number one in the world, has career earnings of $10.8 million and has made millions more in endorsements.

Jean says that he signed a contract that would pay him a share of Osaka’s future earnings as her family were unable to pay the going rate for coaching. Asked about the lawsuit during her pre-tournament news conference Osaka, who grew up less than three miles from Hard Rock Stadium, the new home of the Miami Open, said: "I’m not allowed to say anything. I am unable to make a comment."

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

The 21-year-old U.S.-based Japanese player raised eyebrows last month when she announced she was parting with coach Sascha Bajin, who guided her to the Australian and U.S. Open titles. That split, however, appeared amicable with both Osaka and Bajin wishing each other the best for the future.