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Naomi Osaka And A Tale Of Two Countries

The US Open champion has to renounce her U.S. citizenship because of Japanese law. But it’s not that easy

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Naomi Osaka (@usopen on Twitter)

There is little doubt that the star of women’s tennis, and probably of the whole of tennis, after the pandemic break has been Naomi Osaka. Despite the thigh injury that has kept her out of Roland Garros and a ranking that sees her only at no. 3, her win at the US Open coupled with the role she has played in the unprecedented uprising that led the Western&Southern Open to postpone the semifinal day by 24 hours have risen Naomi’s profile to transcend the tennis niche and land in the star system mainstream.

However, this last triumphant summer, concluded with no less than a cover on Vogue, was just the icing on the cake for whom had been listed by Forbes as the highest paid female athlete in the world in 2019 (37.4 million dollars between prize money and endorsements) and did not hesitate to fly to Minneapolis to witness first hand the racial disorders following the killing of George Floyd.

This 2020 was supposed to be a very important year for Naomi, as she was preparing to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in her home country of Japan. Despite having spent most of her life living in the United States, she has always competed under the Japanese flag and had been selected as one of the testimonials for this Olympiad.

In order to honor the support she has received throughout her junior years from the Japanese Tennis Federation and as an act of coherence for the choice she made to represent Japan in international competitions, Naomi Osaka announced in 2019 that she would be renouncing U.S. citizenship in compliance with Japanese law that does not formally recognize dual citizenship. In fact, she had benefited from an exemption granted to so-called ‘hafu’, the Japanese term used to define mixed-raced children, that is those with parents of different nationalities. Osaka’s mother, Tamaki,  is Japanese, while her father, Leonard François, is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Haiti. According to Japanese law, ‘hafu’ children would be able to maintain dual passports until their 22nd birthday, but then they would have to choose one or the other.

Osaka turned 22 on 16th October 2019, and she has repeatedly confirmed she intends to maintain her Japanese passport only.

Naomi Osaka at the 2020 US Open

However, this presents a logistical conundrum to be solved. First of all, Naomi has always lived in the United States, first in Florida where her mother still lives, and now in the Los Angeles area where she has moved in with her boyfriend, rapper YBN Cordae. The move to Southern California has been justified by her desire to undertake several business ventures that would be better attended to while in Los Angeles. But were she to give up her U.S. citizenship, she will lose the right to live and work in the United States and she would need to secure again that right under her Japanese passport.

For an athlete of her stature that would not be difficult, though: there is a visa, called O-1, that is reserved for “the individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements”. This visa can lead quite easily to a “Green Card”, which is the status of Lawful Permanent Resident in the United States, which would give her most of the privileges she would enjoy as a citizen. But the application could take months, if not longer, and could not be started before she renounces her U.S. citizenship. What to do in the meantime?

But this is not the biggest problem she faces. In fact, renouncing U.S. citizenship could trigger an ‘exit tax’, a tax levied by the U.S. Government to discourage high net-worth individuals from leaving the United States and not having to pay taxes to “Uncle Sam” every year. The U.S. is one of the only two countries in the world that taxes its citizens on their worldwide income no matter where they live. The exit tax can be triggered by various situations, but in general it is not due by individuals whose net-worth is lower than 2 million dollars and who on average pay less than 171,000 dollars a year in taxes to the United States. The calculation of the net-worth includes all assets owned by the individual in question, as well as an actualized value of possible future revenue streams (such as a possible future pension). Considering that Naomi Osaka earned an estimated 37.4 million dollars in 2019 alone, it is safe to assume that she would need to pay a substantial amount to forego her U.S. passport.

Naomi Osaka (@HsrSports on Twitter)

Osaka would be in the paradoxical situation of having to sign a hefty check to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to just continue doing what she is doing now, that is live in California and continue to pay California taxes.

The ‘exit tax’ can be minimized through careful structuring of personal assets through the use of gifts and donations to parents and relatives, which under the fledgling Trump administration have enjoyed record-high exemptions from estate taxes, but it would be very difficult to avoid it completely. Nonetheless, asset restructuring is bound to take time, and this may explain why Osaka has not yet renounced her American citizenship, despite the deadline of her 22nd birthday imposed by the Japanese law passed over a year ago.

All individuals who decide to expatriate and forfeit the U.S. citizenship are published quarterly on the Federal Register, the official journal of the federal government of the United States. As of the last publication of these lists, which occurred on 29th October 2020, her name has not yet been included among those who have abandoned the blue passport with the bald eagle.

According to Canadian law firm Moodys LLP that specializes in U.S. citizenship renunciation, the average time for the procedure varies between 5 and 10 months, although some consular offices are heavily back-logged with a wait time of up to 20 months. An interview with a U.S. official at a U.S. Consulate is needed in order to complete the process, as it has to be established whether the individual is involved in illicit activities and wants to escape prosecution or intends to renounce to avoid paying taxes to the U.S. while living in another country. In that case the Attorney General has the power to prevent the individual from entering the United States forever.

But what to do in the meantime while technically in violation of Japanese law? Many Japanese people in the same situation choose to do absolutely nothing. Figures from the Justice Ministry reported by the New York Times suggest there may be almost 900,000 Japanese citizens holding some other passport, and “the government has never revoked Japanese citizenship from anyone who, like Osaka, was granted citizenship at birth”. In most cases, these people keep living their lives avoiding the topic of nationality disclosing their situation to as few people as possible with the tacit acceptance from the government in some kind of international “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

But given Osaka’s international high profile, it would be difficult for her to fly under the radar and adopt this strategy.

During the last Western&Southern Open, Naomi was asked a question about the forthcoming presidential elections in the United States, with perspective vice-president Kamala Harris being born to an Asian mother and a father from the Caribbean, just like her. She replied: “I would say it’s a bit weird, the stance I have to take. I’m not supposed to talk about politics, to be honest, because technically I’m not American, per se. I kind of have always been advised not to say anything. I don’t know. It’s a bit weird when you’re living in the country and you’re seeing the things that are going on, and you kind of want to say what you think but you’re not supposed to”.

Considering her inclination to take a public stand against what she believes is wrong, Osaka could use her immense following to go head-to-head with the Japanese government and force a change in direction that would officially allow some kind of dual citizenship for Japanese people. But that would be a challenge on a whole different level than what she has experienced so far, both on-court and off-court.

Of course, the easiest solution would be to actually leave the United States, move away from her Beverly Hills mansion and relocate to some tax haven where, after paying her dues to the U.S. taxman, she would enjoy millions of dollars more every year than she would with her current set-up. For example, she could move to the Bahamas, a mere 40-minute flight to her mom’s house in West Palm Beach, Florida, travel to the United States when required by her business engagements, and forget about “green card” and taxes.

But Naomi doesn’t look like the type to take the path of least resistance. She is going to stand for what she believes is right, and she will probably find the way to shine even in this difficult predicament.

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Novak Djokovic Starts Rehab Ahead Of Ambitious Wimbledon Return

Novak Djokovic could make an ambitious return to Wimbledon.

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(ubitennis/Francesca Micheli)

Novak Djokovic has started his rehab after having surgery on a meniscus injury he suffered at Roland Garros.

The Serb suffered the injury during his fourth round clash with Francisco Cerundolo where Djokovic came back from two sets to one down to claim victory.

However Djokovic played no further part at Roland Garros as he suffered a bad meniscus injury and had to withdraw from the tournament.

It resulted in Djokovic having to have surgery the following day in Paris as he gave up his world number one ranking to Jannik Sinner.

Now the road to recovery starts for Djokovic as he posted on Instagram the start of his rehabilitation programme.

Usually the programme takes three weeks to six months to recover from but Djokovic’s injury wasn’t as bad as first reported.

It remains to be seen as to whether Djokovic will make his return at Wimbledon or whether he will wait until the Olympic Games to make his return.

Last year Djokovic reached the final at Wimbledon before losing to Carlos Alcaraz in a five set epic.

However it would be no surprise to see Djokovic withdraw as the one thing the Serb is yet to achieve is to win Olympic Gold.

A fully healed Djokovic could be tough to stop in Paris as he looks to achieve a lifetime goal.

Wimbledon starts on the 1st of July while the Olympics starts on the 27th of July.

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Determined Andreescu Ready To Maintain Consistency After Defeating Osaka

Bianca Andreescu is back to her best after defeating Naomi Osaka in s-Hertogenbosch.

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(@TheTennisLetter - Twitter)

Bianca Andreescu is ready to maintain consistency as her form continues to improve with her latest victory coming against Naomi Osaka in S-Hertogenbosch.

In a battle of the former US Open champions, Andreescu defeated Osaka 6-4 3-6 7-6(3) to move into the semi-finals.

The Canadian is only playing her second tournament this year after her run to the third round at Roland Garros, losing to eventual finalist Jasmine Paolini.

However that hasn’t stopped Andreescu from producing incredible performances as has gone back to the variety that earned her the US Open title five years ago.

Speaking about the match Andreescu praised her consistency on return as she admitted that she really wanted to the victory, “So the key for. me was to stay as consistent as possible,” Andreescu told the WTA website.

“My return today, the goal was to just bunt it back and then take control of the second serve. At 5-2, I might have let up a little bit on my serve. I was saying to myself ‘Go for it’ but the other side of myself said ‘Calm down’. So I got a bit conflicted with that.

“But really could have gone either way. It was two points difference maybe, in the whole match. I never give up. I ran a lot today. More than her for sure. I really wanted it. I really wanted it today and I think that made the big difference.”

Since that US Open title win five years ago, Andreescu has failed to live up to her potential as she has gained the reputation of being one of the most injury prone players on the tour.

Now the Canadian is aiming to find some consistent playing time as she aims to rebuild her ranking.

Speaking ahead of the semi-finals in Holland, Andreescu is not getting to far ahead of herself, “These are the reason we play this sport,” Andreescu commented after beating former world number one Osaka.

“Winning against players like this, at least for me, it really shows me where my level is at. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself because every day is different. I just want to take it in and use it to my advantage.”

Next for Andreescu will be Dalma Galfi in the semi-finals as she plays her first WTA semi-final since January 2023.

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Jack Draper Stuns Tiafoe in Stuttgart; Becomes New British Number One

The Brit serves up astonishing 31 aces in just 17 service games

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Britain’s Jack Draper was pushed all the way before beating defending champion Frances Tiafoe in a third set tie-breaker to reach the semi-finals of the Boss Open in Stuttgart today – a result which also makes him the new British number one.

Draper’s biggest wins of his career came when he defeated world number five Stefanos Tsitsipas in Montreal last year as a qualifier, and also beating Felix Auger-Aliassime in reaching the US Open third round. However, today’s victory over Tiafoe confirms his ascent to the top spot in the British rankings, something which is extremely proud of.

“It’s an incredible privilege, an honour to be in that position,” he said afterwards. “I’ve been so lucky to have guys like Andy Murray, Cam Norrie and Dan Evans ahead of me all these years and they’re still in the mix pushing me, so it’s a real honour, a big milestone.”

Games went with serve in the opening set until Tiafoe broke when the scores were even at five games all. Tiafoe, whose three ATP titles have come on all three surfaces, survived a break back point in the next game to take the set with 15 winners and an impressive 71% of first serves in. The payers stopped briefly for a rain delay at the start of the second set.

“It was difficult, it wasn’t easy after the first set, I thought Frances played a really good game, just the one break.” Said Draper. “Going off, I was very frustrated, but then I came back really strong, I knew I had my opportunities and I knew I would have some more. I’m really happy with the way I served and competed and how brave I was at the end.”

As the second set continued, Draper missed two breakpoints when 4-3 ahead including a huge chance when he pushed his opponent out wide and approached the net – but put too much on his drop volley which Tiafoe punished. Draper had been serving unbelievably throughout the set with 11 aces overall, and blitzed through another love service game to go 5-4 up and apply some scoreboard pressure.

In the next game he hit a strong forehand up the line to win the crucial first point and then chased down a drop shot to hit another flashy winner to go 0-30 ahead. Tiafoe won the next point but then double faulted to give Draper set points – and he converted with yet another superb forehand up the line to level the contest at a set all.

Both players held serve easily at the start of the third but then tested each other out as the set progressed. Tiafoe fought through a deuce game and got to 30 all on Draper’s serve but the Brit averted the danger. Draper missed a match point when 5-4 up with a missed return but entered the tie-break in good shape – his first serve was almost unplayable winning over 85% when in.

“I’m incredibly happy with the win. I’ve lost all my last three third set tie-breakers so to come through today was really amazing, I’m really proud of my effort. I’m really happy with the way I served and the way I played; it was a really high-quality match. Frances was serving very well himself so to serve the way I did; it was a really big positive for me.”

Draper now goes on to face another American Brandon Nakashima who progressed after Jan-Lennard Struff withdrew with sickness. Speaking about his next opponent who was born in the same year as Draper, he said: “He’s someone who is an incredibly good young player, a really exciting talent, I think he had a lot of injuries last year like myself but he’s been rising this year and playing a lot of matches. Like everyone here, they’re all amazing players and it will be a tough battle.”

After the match, Draper spoke to Sky Sports and elaborated further about the positive influence of the other British top five, and about the Euro 2024 tournament beginning this evening.

“Those guys have all inspired me to be better. Obviously, Andy is a two-time Wimbledon and Olympic champion and has achieved so much in the game. For me he’s one of the greatest players. I’ve learned so much from those guys, the professionalism, the discipline and they’ve always been really good for me, just as a young player looking up to them and copying what they do so I’m very grateful for that.”

“[In the football]: Hopefully England can do one better than three years ago because we did well to get to the final. We have an incredibly strong team. It’s going to be a lot of tough matches but hopefully they can pull through.

On the other side of the draw, former champion Matteo Berrettini faced qualifier James Duckworth.  The Australian, who reached the third round of Wimbledon in 2021, could only manage 64% of first serve points won and committed 16 unforced errors while also facing eight breakpoints. A single break of serve in both sets was enough for the Italian to move forward into the semis, as he won 6-4, 7-5 with another strong serving display.

“It was a really solid match, especially on my serve, I didn’t give him any breakpoints,” said Berrettini afterwards. “I felt like the rhythm on the serve was really good, on grass it’s really important and in the right moments I stepped in and was more aggressive. It’s really important to put a lot of returns in and that’s what I tried to do and it worked out, and so I’m happy for that.

When asked why he was so hard to beat on the faster surface he replied, “you should ask my opponents that! I think obviously for my weapons, my serve, it pays off on grass to play aggressively and that’s what I like to do. I’m using the slice as well on the backhand side and it’s important to play good in the important moments and being able to put pressure on your opponent when you’re serving is really important, and I think that’s the key. And when I step on grass, I feel like I want to play for hours and hours so here I am”

The 28-year-old is a big football fan, and was also asked about whether he would watch the opening match of the tournament. “Germany is playing tonight so I will watch tomorrow’s match. I love Germany but to supporting Germany is a little bit too much! Tomorrow is the start [for Italy] so good luck to the guys. Three years ago, we had really good memories during this time, so let’s see!”

Following Struff’s earlier withdrawal against Nakashima, it meant there was only one other quarter final today where Lorenzo Musetti progressed despite dropping the first set 4-6 to Hungarian Alexander Bublik. The Italian raced through the second set 6-1, and when he broke serve to go 1-0 ahead in the decider, Bublik retired.

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