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Naomi Osaka And A Tale Of Two Countries

The US Open champions 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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‘I Play For Grand Slams’ – Serena Williams Hails Quarantine Measures Ahead Of Australian Open

The tennis star gives her own view about the quarantine process in Australia.

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Former world No.1 Serena Williams has praised Australian authorities over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as she nears her return to professional tennis.

 

The multiple Grand Slam winner is currently conducting her 14-day quarantine process in Adelaide along with her team and family as part of the rules set out by Tennis Australia. All players have been kept inside what has been described as a ‘bubble’ for their first two weeks of arriving in the country before they are allowed to play any tournaments. Those who test positive or are a contact case of somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19 must stay in their rooms at all times.

As a result of the procedures, some players have complained about the conditions and how they have been treated. Spain’s Paula Badosa, who has the coronavirus, says she feels ‘abandoned’ by authorities. The world No.67 has been moved to a health hotel with her coach following the positive test. There has also been some complaints from others over their rooms, food and allegations of preferential treatment for those in Adelaide.

On the other hand, Williams says she has no problems with what she describes as a ‘super intense’ quarantine as she pays tribute to those running the system.

“It’s super, super strict, but it’s really good,” Williams told The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
“It’s insane and super intense but it’s super good because after that you can have a new normal like we were used to this time last year in the United States.
“It’s definitely hard with a three-year-old to be in the hotel all day, but it’s worth it because you want everyone to be safe at the end of the day.”

The 39-year-old will head to Melbourne Park next week with the goal of trying to tie the all-time record for most Grand Slam titles held by a singles player. It was at the Australian Open where she recorded her last major triumph back in 2017. However, since then Williams has only won one title which was at the ASB Classic 12 months ago. Although she did finish runner-up at four majors between 2018-2019.

“I play right now for Grand Slams and I love to have the opportunity to still be out there and to compete at this level,” she stated.
“It (the Australian Open) was one of my favourite slams growing up. I have so many friends in Melbourne, it’s really nice. Every time I win a Grand Slam it means the world to me so they are all really special.”

Williams’ Grand Slam tally currently stands at 23 which is one behind Margaret Court. Although Court won 13 of her titles prior to the start of the Open Era in 1968 which was when Grand Slams allowed professional players to compete with amateurs.

This Friday Williams will take on Naomi Osaka in the ‘Day at the Drive’ exhibition event in Adelaide.

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‘An Incredible Job’ – Nick Kyrgios Hails Strict Australian Open Quarantine Measures

The outspoken Australian also explains why he believes it is right to publicly criticise top names such as Novak Djokovic.

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Nick Kyrgios says he feels safer playing tennis than last year following a series of COVID-19 measures that have been implemented ahead of the Australian Open.

 

The former top-20 star has hailed the action taken by authorities which has triggered a somewhat mixed response from other players. Those playing in the first Grand Slam of the season are currently going through a 14-day quarantine with 72 players being unable to leave their room after being deemed a close contact of somebody who has tested positive for the virus. A series of positive tests was detected on flights en route to the country.

Although some players have criticised the process with allegations of poor room standards and preferential treatment for the top players who are currently based in Adelaide instead of Melbourne. Spain’s Paula Badosa tested positive for COVID-19 on the sixth day of her quarantine and had symptoms. In a recent interview with the Marca newspaper, Badosa says she feels ‘abandoned’ by authorities during what is the ‘worst experience’ of her career.

However, Kyrgios has hailed the comprehensive approach that has been taken by the authorities. He was one of the few players not to travel to Europe or North America during the second part of last year due to concerns related to the Pandemic. Compatriot Ash Barty was another to do the same.

“In Melbourne, with obviously the bubble, they’ve done an incredible job there. The authorities aren’t letting up and [are] making sure everyone is sticking by the rules,” Kyrgios told CNN.
“I actually feel quite safe. I didn’t really feel safe during last year, traveling and playing overseas, I thought it was a bit too soon to play.
“I think now the conditions are safe enough and everyone is going to work together and make sure we do it the right way.
“I don’t want to put anyone else at risk. I have loved ones that I don’t want to even have the chance to expose to Covid so I think it’s safe enough.”

Renowned for his at times fiery behaviour on the Tour and outspoken tone, the 25-year-old has no intention of changing his habits. Last summer he hit out at a series of his peers over their behaviour during the pandemic and blasted the Adria Tour. An exhibition series co-founded by Novak Djokovic which had to end early following an outbreak of the virus among players and staff members.

Djokovic is one of the players who Kyrgios has criticised the most in recent times. On January 18th he called the 17-time Grand Slam champion a ‘tool’ on Twitter after his letter to Craig Tiley was leaked to the public. Nevertheless, Kyrgios has no regrets over his comments as he feels it is vital to hold the top names accountable as he drew parallels between Djokovic and NBA great LeBron James.

I think it’s very important, especially one of the leaders of our sport. He’s technically our LeBron James,” he said.
“He has to set an example for all tennis players out there and set an example for tennis,”
added Kyrgios. “I think when he was doing some of the things that he was doing during the global pandemic, it just wasn’t the right time.
“I know everyone makes mistakes. Even some of us go off track sometimes but I think we need to hold each other accountable.
“I’m not doing any of this stuff for media attention, these are the morals that I’ve grown up with. I was just trying to do my part.”

Due to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and injury, Kyrgios hasn’t played a full competitive match on the ATP Tour since his fourth round loss to Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open almost a year ago.

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The Slow And Successful Rise Of Veronika Kudermetova

Let us look at the long path to success at high levels of the current Russian number two, who just finished as the runner-up in Abu Dhabi.

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Veronika Kudermetova - Roland Garros 2019 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)
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While waiting for the end of the Australian quarantine, UbiTennis continues our analysis of the players involved in the first tournament of the year, the WTA 500 in Abu Dhabi.

After the article dedicated to Ekaterina Alexandrova, I shall continue with the Russian line by discussing Veronika Kudermetova. For her, the week in the Emirates was a very positive one, given that for the first time in her career she managed to reach the final of a WTA 500 event (the new denomination of the Premier tournaments, which assign 470 points to the winner). During the tournament, Kudermetova defeated Kontaveit, Turati, Badosa, Svitolina and Kostyuk, losing only to Aryna Sabalenka (who, between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, has an active winning streak of 15 matches). Veronika’s excellent moment is validated by the best ranking she achieved this week at N.36 – had she won the final, she would have become the Russian N.1, overtaking Alexandrova. 

 

It should be emphasized, however, that all the talk about the rankings is muddled by the rules introduced with the pandemic, rules that tend to maintain the status quo, and in fact disfavour up-and-coming players like Kudermetova. Had only the results obtained in 2020 been counted, Veronika would have ended the season ranked 29th instead of 46th. Then, by factoring in the final reached in the UAE last Wednesday, her spot in the Top 30 would have been cemented even further. It might seem senseless to keep referring to a virtual ranking based on past rules (which are slated to come back in March, though), but I think it helps to identify the players who are doing better, despite the many difficulties of the current period. In fact, we know that we are playing less than usual, and this makes it more difficult to build that momentum which, thanks to above average conditions of form and enthusiasm, translates into significant leaps in quality and standing.

As for Kudermetova, there are at least two aspects of her career that, in my opinion, make her particularly interesting: the difficulties she faced to find financial support in her teenage years, and the comparison with her peers born in 1997, a special year for women’s tennis. In fact, Veronika was born in the same year as successful and precocious players such as Bencic, Ostapenko and Osaka, as well as Konjuh (unfortunately stopped by injuries) and Kasatkina, her Russian “twin” with whom she shared the years on the junior tour. Let’s start from those years.

On page 2, Kudermetova’s beginnings 

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