Not only did Naomi Osaka "follow in the footsteps of Muhammad Ali, Paavo Nurmi, Rafer Johnson, Midori Ito, Yuna Kim and Wayne Gretzky and lit the Olympic cauldron to cap Friday's opening ceremony" of the Tokyo Olympics as the New York Times says, she also went ahead to win her country a great place in the tournament with a very strong start.
The world number two, is back on the court after pulling out of the French Open on mental health grounds and also missing Wimbledon.
“More than anything else I’m just focused on playing tennis,” Naomi Osaka said. “The Olympics has been a dream of mine since I was a kid so I feel like the break that I took was very needed. I feel definitely a little bit refreshed and I’m happy again.”
Osaka was the first Asian tennis player to be ranked No. 1 by the Women's Tennis Association and the first Japanese-born player to win a grand slam.
Osaka was criticized for missing a press conference at the Roland Garros but explained later that she just needed a mental health break stating during a Time interview;
"I have always enjoyed an amazing relationship with the media and have given numerous in-depth, one-on-one interviews. Other than those super-stars who have been around much longer than I (Novak, Roger, Rafa, Serena), I’d estimate that I’ve given more time to the press than many other players over recent years."
Born in Japan to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother, Osaka has lived and trained in the United States since age three. She came to prominence at age 16 when she defeated former US Open champion Samantha Stosur in her WTA Tour debut at the 2014 Stanford Classic.
Two years later, she reached her first WTA final at the 2016 Pan Pacific Open in Japan to enter the top 50 of the WTA rankings. Osaka made her breakthrough into the upper echelon of women's tennis in 2018 when she won her first WTA title at the Indian Wells Open.
Later in the year, she defeated 23-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams in the final of the US Open to become the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles title. Since 2018, she has won a Grand Slam singles title in four consecutive years.
Osaka is one of the world's most marketable athletes, having been ranked eighth among all athletes in endorsement income in 2020. She was also the highest-earning female athlete of all time by annual income that year.
Osaka has gained significant recognition as an activist, having showcased support for the Black Lives Matter movement in conjunction with her matches. She was named one of the 2020 Sports Illustrated Sportspersons of the Year for her activism largely as part of her US Open championship run, and was also included on Time's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world in both 2019 and 2020.
Not only is Osaka making a strong claim for athletes to take care of their mental health and support the community but is also making her own country very proud.
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