Long before Naomi Osaka was winning Grand Slam titles and became one of the world’s most popular athletes, she was just a kid on a tennis court in Queens, New York, trying to get better at the game. The courts at Detective Keith L. Williams Park were her stamping ground. It was there that she won some matches and lost some others.
“Hitting on these courts, I know I lost to a lot of people,” she said while attending a recent refurbishment event for those same courts. “I wasn’t that great when I was younger. I’m not really sure why, but I turned out much better growing up.”
Osaka teamed up with Bodyarmor, already a partner to the 23-year-old tennis star, to help makeover her childhood courts. It was the perfect collaboration for the star and the brand, the official sports drink of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, coming to fruition ahead of the start of the tournament. With help from New York-based graffiti artist Masterpiece NYC, as well as Naomi’s big sister and former professional tennis player Mari Osaka, the courts were completely overhauled. Instead of being made over with the traditional blues and greens, a rainbow of colors have been splashed all over it.
To celebrate the new and improved hard court, Naomi was on hand with her foundation, Play Academy, to put on a youth tennis clinic. It featured young people from a number of tennis-based organizations who were given the chance to competitively hit with the four-time Grand Slam winner and also work on drills that focused on volleys and serves with one another. In addition to the kids present, the event brought out plenty of people from the neighborhood who lined up around the court to watch her play, as well as some familiar faces from her childhood who came to say hello.
“I actually recognize a lot of people that came out here today and it’s really nice to see you guys!” she said during the event’s Q&A session with Peloton instructor and Love Squad founder Ally Love. “And just to see the courts kind of new and different from how I grew up, it’s really amazing.”
Osaka, who used to practice every day with sister Mari and her father, said plenty of adventures were had not just on the court but in the neighborhood as well. Wanting to support the community she has such fond memories of was a part of why the project was a necessary one for her and Bodyarmor, which is based in Queens.
“This project came about because partnering with Bodyarmor, just knowing how we’re both—I’m kind of based in Queens. I moved later on. But to know they have such strong roots here and for me, just revisiting here and wanting to build up and do better for the community is very important for both of us,” she said.
Also important was making the courts look more inviting. There are now colors and symbols all around it that are of meaningful to Naomi.
“It’s important to be kind of colorful,” she said. “I think courts kind of stay the same neutral color so just giving it a pop of color and making it recognizable is really important.”
The end result was a hit with everyone present, especially the next generation of tennis lovers, and possibly, future Grand Slam winners.