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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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Madrid Open Daily Preview: Ash Barty and Aryna Sabalenka Meet in a Second Consecutive Final

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Aryna Sabalenka has steamrolled her way to Saturday’s final (twitter.com/MutuaMadridOpen)

Just 13 days ago in Stuttgart, Barty and Sabalenka competed in the championship match, with Barty coming back from a set down to win the title, claiming 12 of the last 15 games.  On Saturday, Sabalenka looks to avenge that loss, and even their head-to-head at 4-4.  The women’s doubles championship will also be decided, between two of the top three seeds.

 

On the men’s side, the singles and doubles semifinals will be played.  Sascha Zverev hit a subpar Rafael Nadal right off the court on Friday, and just 24 hours later will try to take out the next-best clay courter of the last few years, Dominic Thiem.  Saturday will be a busy day for Zverev, as he’s also a semifinalist in doubles.  In the other singles semifinal, Matteo Berrettini and Casper Ruud will do battle, with the winner achieving their first Masters 1000 final. 

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the two most prominent matches of the day, and note the other intriguing matchups on the schedule.  Saturday’s play will begin at 1:30pm local time.

Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Sascha Zverev (5) – Not Before 4:00pm on Manolo Santana Stadium

This will be their first encounter since their dramatic, yet rather ugly US Open final, where Thiem came back from two sets down to eventually prevail in a fifth set tiebreak.  Overall Dominic leads their head-to-head 8-2, and 4-1 on clay.  The Austrian has claimed their last four meetings, with Zverev’s last victory coming in the final of this event three years ago.  

Both men struggled with some nagging injuries prior to this event, but both have looked sharp to this stage.  Thiem overcame a one-set deficit on Friday against John Isner, while Zverev is yet to drop a set.  Defeating Nadal on clay is always a big achievement, especially when it’s your first time doing so.  It will be interesting to see if Sascha can maintain his high level from a day prior.  Zverev struck 28 winners on Friday, compared to only six by Nadal.

In last year’s US Open final, the winner of each set was the player who won a higher percentage of first serve points.  If you’re Sascha Zverev, there has to be some baggage from blowing a two-set lead in his first career Major final.  In a rivalry that has strongly favored Thiem, I like the reigning US Open champion to reach his third final in Madrid.

Ash Barty (1) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (5) – Not Before 6:30pm on Manolo Santana Stadium

They’ve already met twice this year, in Miami and Stuttgart, with Barty taking both matches in a third set by a score of 6-3.  In their Stuttgart final, converting break points was a key difference.  Barty broke five times, while Sabalenka only claimed two out of 10 break points.  That exemplifies the composure of the world No.1, who has won 16 out of her last 18 deciding sets. 

Sabalenka hasn’t faced a deciding set this fortnight, as she’s been dominating all competition.  No opponent has claimed more than three games in a set.  Aryna has spent about three less hours on court than Barty, though that shouldn’t be a significant factor on Saturday.  Both players had a day of rest on Friday, and comfortably won their Thursday semifinals in straight sets.

Barty has amassed several impressive streaks: 9 straight match wins, 16 straight on red clay, and 10 straight victories over top 10 opposition.  She’s also prevailed in 10 of her last 12 finals.  Similarly, Sabalenka has won seven of her last nine finals.  Yet as impressive as the Belarusian has been, winning 32 of her last 38 matches, she’s only 1-3 during that span against the top 10.  If these two go the distance again, it’s harder for Sabalenka to maintain her level than Barty.  And Ash possesses many more backup plans in her arsenal.  In what should be another tight contest, I give the slight edge to Barty to earn her fourth title of the year.

Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Matteo Berrettini (8) vs. Casper Ruud – Berrettini is on a seven-match win streak, dating back to his title run two weeks ago in Belgrade.  Ruud is into his third consecutive Masters 1000 semifinal on clay, and all 14 of his wins at this level have come on this surface.  Casper has been serving spectacularly, as he’s yet to be broken at this event, facing only one break point thus far.  They’ve split two previous meetings, with the clay court clash going to Ruud in straight sets, two years ago at Roland Garros.

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (2) vs. Gabriela Dabrowski and Demi Schuurs (3) – Krejcikova and Siniakova won the Gippsland Trophy earlier this season, and reached the final of the Australian Open.  This is the first tournament for Dabrowski and Schuurs as a team.

Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (2) vs. Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen – Mektic and Pavic have now won 31 of 34 matches since teaming up for 2021.  Their Belgian opponents won the Singapore Open earlier this year, then went on a five-match losing streak before reaching the final of Munich last week.

Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos (3) vs. Tim Puetz and Sascha Zverev – Granollers and Zeballos are looking to reach their second final of the season.  This is Puetz and Zverev’s second event this season as a team.  In Miami, the Germans defeated Granollers and Zeballos in straight sets.

Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Alexander Zverev Powers Past Erratic Nadal To Set Thiem Showdown

Alexander Zverev secured his best win of his career on a clay court by beating Rafael Nadal in Madrid.

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Alexander Zverev (@ATPTour_ES - Twitter)

Alexander Zverev powered past an erratic Rafael Nadal 6-4 6-3 to reach the semi-finals in Madrid.

 

After a slow start Zverev produced some stunning tennis to knock out the five-time champion Nadal, who had an error-prone day at the office.

The German will now play Dominic Thiem in the last four in a rematch from the 2018 final.

It was the 20-time grand slam champion who started off the fastest as he looked to target the Zverev forehand early with uncomfortable spins and heights.

Eventually Nadal would get his rewards for an accurate tactical game-plan as a Zverev double fault handed him the break.

However that advantage was to be short-lived as the first point of the seventh game would change the momentum of the match with Nadal putting in simple unforced errors especially on the forehand side.

The German took advantage as he used his backhand to dictate points from the baseline. Furthermore, Zverev used his superior net play to his advantage by shortening the points and creating a faster tempo.

An unusual first set from Nadal’s perspective was complete as the fifth seed reeled off four games in a row to seal the opening set 6-4.

At the start of the second set, the Spaniard tried to up his level and intensity as he used some drop-shots at unexpected moments and attempted to bring the crowd into the match.

Despite this Nadal’s return game was lacking its usual ferocity as he couldn’t capitalise on Zverev’s second serves.

There was a lack of confidence in the Spaniard when implementing effective patterns of play as Zverev had a lot of success dictating play and winning the baseline and net rallies.

Another break in the fifth game ensured that Zverev’s dominance was being rewarded.

Although a double break advantage was denied, Nadal couldn’t deny victory for Zverev as the German sealed his first clay court victory over the ‘King of Clay.’

After the match Zverev admitted it was one of the biggest wins of his career, “Definitely one of the biggest wins of my career so far, especially on clay against Rafa. It is the toughest thing to do in our sport,” Zverev said in an on-court interview.

“Beating him in his house, in Spain, is incredible but the tournament is not over yet.”

Lots to ponder for Nadal as an error-prone performance sees him looking to improve in Rome next week.

As for the German, he sets up a 2018 final rematch with Dominic Thiem in the last four as he secured his best victory on this surface of his career.

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Dominic Them reaches semifinal in Madrid after three-set battle with Isner

Dominic Thiem is into the Madrid semi-finals after an impressive three set win over John Isner.

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Dominic Thiem (@atptour - Twitter)

The Austrian booked his spot in the semifinals after coming back to beat the American in three sets.

 

Dominic Thiem needed one hour and 55 minutes to beat the world number 39 John Isner in three sets 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 hitting 20 winners in the win while his opponent hit 26 unforced errors.

“We all know that he is one of the best servers in history and this altitude in Madrid makes it even tougher to return his serve but I was a little bit surprised by his return games, I think he attacked both my first and second serves and it took me a while to get used to it and I think the match changed when I saved those three breakpoints in the second set”.

It was the American who got off to the faster start holding his opening service game and then going on the offensive earning a breakpoint the following game and taking an early 2-0 lead.

The Greensboro, North Carolina native had a chance to go up a double break but the world number four saved both breakpoints he faced and managed to hold his first service game of the match.

That break was enough for the American to serve out the first set and he was one set away from the semifinals.

The second set stayed on serve until 2-2 when the Dallas, Texas resident had four breakpoints but failed to convert and the match was starting to turn with the American looking gassed.

In the next game the Austrian had three breakpoint and converted for his first break of the match as he served out the second set to send it to a deciding third set.

Isner was put under pressure early in the third set facing a breakpoint in the first game of the set but managed to save it and hold serve and it stayed on serve until 4-4.

That’s when the world number four earned two chances to break and on the second time of asking he would break and served out the match to book a date with either Alexander Zverev or Rafael Nadal.

After his match in an on court interview he gave this thoughts on a potential matchup with either Nadal or Zverev.

“It’s going to be a good one, I’ve played two big matches here against Rafa ( Nadal) and one big match against Sascha ( Zverev), and against either one of them it’s going to be an incredible challenge and it’s going to be exciting tomorrow”.

With the loss today by Isner when the new rankings come out on Monday it will be the first time in the open era and since the rankings came out that an American will not feature in the top 30 players in the world.

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