Updated: Jul 27
By Lily Spencer
Image via Google Images, Image description: Osaka celebrates during a match
Gen-Z tennis icon Naomi Osaka has won the 2021 ESPY award for Best Female Athlete, punctuating a year of professional triumph and personal challenges.
The public, fellow athletes, and other celebrities have rallied around Osaka as she chose to withdraw from the 2021 French Open to preserve her mental wellbeing. After winning her first-round match against Romanian player Patricia Maria Țig, Osaka refused to speak to the press, a part of tournaments she finds emotionally draining. This action prompted a $15,000 fine by the French Tennis Federation.
Osaka recently told TIME Magazine, "In my opinion (and I want to say that this is just my opinion and not that of every tennis player on tour), the press-conference format itself is out of date and in great need of a refresh,"..."I believe that we can make it better, more interesting and more enjoyable for each side. Less subject vs. object; more peer to peer."
Some have criticized the extreme actions of the French Tennis Federation, including Anthony Mackie, host of the 2021 ESPYS ceremony on July 10. “I’m no tennis exec,” Mackie said, “ I don’t know, but if my sport had one of the most popular and marketable athletes on the planet, you know what I would do? I would probably make sure she felt comfortable and respected. But hey, what do I know, right? I’m just Captain America.”
Born in Chūō-ku, Osaka, Japan on October 16, 1997, to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, Naomi Osaka is sweeping the world with her dazzling tennis game, openness around mental health, and her unwavering commitment to social justice. In an article for Esquire magazine, Osaka said, “I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, a friend and a girlfriend. I’m Asian, I’m black, and I’m female. I’m as normal a 22-year-old as anyone. Except I happen to be good at tennis.”
According to Naomi Osaka’s official website, “Since hitting the professional circuit in 2013, 23-year-old Naomi is now a four-time Grand Slam champion and the first Asian player to hold the No. 1 ranking.”
Osaka has teamed up with Netflix to create a documentary entitled Naomi Osaka to be released in three parts on July 16, 2021. TIME Magazine describes how the “...intimate three-part series takes us inside the life of one of the world’s best tennis players...With unprecedented access, we follow Osaka during a historic two years in which she works on her game but also begins to find her voice. Whether she’s defending her grand slam titles — while wearing masks in defense of Black lives — mourning the unexpected loss of mentor Kobe Bryant, or finding her independence, the challenges Naomi faces on a personal level begin to align with those in the public sphere...Empathetic in its approach, the series chronicles Osaka’s hectic training and travel schedule, explores the layers of pressure she is under and reveals how she spends her time off the court hanging with her closest family and friends. The episodes also travel the globe with Osaka to further explore her Haitian roots as well as examine her deep connection to Japan, the country she represents."
Not only is Osaka one of the best tennis players of all time, a fashion visionary, and an advocate for the de-stigmatization of mental health, she uses her platform to promote the causes that are at the heart of the world’s fight for justice and equality. On her website it is written that “She felt she hadn’t even scraped the surface of what needed to be said or done.” In an essay addressing racial injustice for Esquire, Naomi explained, “I signed petitions, I protested, and I donated, like many of us. But I kept asking myself, ‘what can I do to make this world a better place for my children?’ “Then, in August, days after another black man was shot by police officers in Kenosha, Naomi backed out of the Western and Southern Open Semifinals. She wrote on Twitter, “Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman.’”
Image via Google Images, Image description: Osaka wears masks bearing the names of those killed by police brutality to advocate for Black Lives Matter
“She’s not just a tennis champion, but an entrepreneur, luminary and role model for young people across the globe…[t]oday, she’s only the third person in history to have won all four of her first Grand Slam finals--winning the US Open and Australian Open twice.” (www.naomiosaka.com).
One thing is for sure: the name Naomi Osaka is one we will continue to hear for decades to come.
Written by Arts + Pop Culture Co-Editor Lily Spencer