On July 23, 2021, the long-awaited 2020 Summer Olympics finally got underway in Tokyo, Japan. Of all the athletes, celebrities and personalities available, the Japanese Olympic Committee chose tennis professional Naomi Osaka to light the Olympic torch, as her home country took center stage in the world of sports. How did this 23-year-old rise to such stardom and become such a well-known global icon both on and off the court? Let’s take a look at her career to this point, as we celebrate the arrival of her NFTs to the DraftKings Marketplace.
Osaka was born on October 16, 1997, in Osaka, Japan, but she moved to the United States at age three. She began training at that young age with her father and older sister, Mari, in Florida. The Osaka sisters were inspired by the Williams sisters and competed in doubles as well as individually in professional singles events. While she lost to her older sister in singles early in her career, the younger Osaka was ultimately going to build a stronger career. Naomi Osaka went pro in 2013 and immediately drew attention by upsetting Samantha Stosur (then-No. 19 in the world) in her tour-level debut.
In 2016, she made her first noise at Grand Slam events with two wins at each event during the Australian Open, the French Open and the US Open but missed out on making her Wimbledon debut due to injury. Osaka also reached the finals in the Pan Pacific Open before losing to Caroline Wozniacki. The combination of all those results was enough to move her into the top 50 in the world rankings and earn her the “Newcomer of the Year” award from the Women’s Tennis Association.
Osaka’s breakthrough season came in 2018 when she won her first career tournament and her first Grand Slam tournament. Her first victory came at the Indian Wells Open, highlighted by a win over then-No. 1 player in the world, Simona Halep. She dominated that tournament only losing one set during her entire run. She duplicated that fete at the US Open that summer, dropping just one set during the entire tournament. In the final, she faced one of her childhood heroes, Serena Williams, and ultimately won in straight sets. Osaka’s win was slightly overshadowed by Serena’s outburst at an umpire that resulted in a game penalty and a chorus of boos from the fans in New York. Osaka’s win was still significant, though, as she became the first Japanese Grand Slam singles champion, and the first Japanese woman to ever make the final at a Grand Slam event.
At the very next Grand Slam event, Osaka claimed her second major victory and also rose to No. 1 overall in the world. She wasn’t quite as dominant in the Australian Open but persevered to defeat Petra Kvitová in the final. Following the victory, she became the first Asian player ever to hold the No. 1 ranking in the world.
Due to the COVID-19 shutdown, Osaka only played four events in 2020, but she still managed to claim her third Grand Slam title and her second US Open. In the Final, she dropped the first set to Victoria Azarenka but rallied to win the next two sets, becoming the first player to win the US Open Women’s Singles Final after dropping the first set since 1994.
In the spring of 2021, she continued her big wins by claiming her second career Australian Open and improving her record in Grand Slam Finals to 4-0 with a win over Jennifer Brady. In all of tennis history, only Osaka, Roger Federer and Monica Seles have won their first four Grand Slam finals.
On the court, Osaka is known for the power of her forehand and her serve. Her serve has been clocked up to 125 miles per hour, and she also excels at extended rallies since she avoids unforced errors.
Osaka has also shown the power of her influence off the court. She has used her celebrity and influence to impact important societal causes. She has truly become the quintessential modern female athlete in many ways. She consistently embraces her role as a multicultural, multiracial, Japanese-Haitian-American woman, and has also stood up against social inequality, most notably by wearing face masks emblazoned with the names of Black Americans who were victims of police violence throughout her victorious 2020 US Open run. As a result of her activism, Osaka was honored as one of the 2020 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year and as one of the Time 100 most influential people in the world.
Osaka also became a leader in the movement to draw attention to mental health issues, as she decided to take time off from the sport to deal with her personal mental wellness before the French Open in 2021. She returned for the Olympics, where the mental health of the athletes was again a renewed focus. After lighting the torch to open the games, she lost in the third round to eventual silver medalist Marketa Vondrousova. She continued to struggle with mental wellness at the Western & Southern Open but will try to get her game tuned up for the upcoming US Open, where she’ll be defending her 2020 Championship.
In other off-the-court endeavors, Osaka has shown she’s an extremely marketable talent with multiple high-profile endorsements, and she has also become very involved in fashion design as well. She has appeared at New York Fashion Week and co-designed a well-received collection with ADEAM. She also has her own line of Nike apparel featuring her own unique logo and is a global brand ambassador for Louis Vuitton. She will also be increasing her profile on the fashion scene as co-host of the prestigious 2021 MET gala with the theme “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.”
Osaka has shown a willingness to impact the world in meaningful ways while also continuing to put up great results on the court. As she continues her journey, it will be exciting to see her power on the court lead to continued success and her power off the court continue to bring about meaningful change and draw attention to important causes.