Naomi Osaka: One of the world’s most marketable athletes

Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka (born October 16, 1997) is a Japanese professional tennis player. She has been ranked world No. 1 in singles by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and is the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles. Osaka is a four-time Grand Slam singles champion, with two Australian Open and two US Open titles. Her seven titles on the WTA Tour also include two at the Premier Mandatory level.

At the 2018 US Open and the 2019 Australian Open, Osaka won her first two major titles in back-to-back tournaments. She was the first woman to win successive major singles titles since Serena Williams in 2015, and the first to win her first two in successive majors since Jennifer Capriati in 2001.

Born in Japan to a Haitian-American 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 Tokyo 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 major singles title.

In mid-2021, suffering from depression and other issues, Osaka retired from the French Open, dropped out of Wimbledon, and lost early at the US Open. She closed down the rest of her tennis season to focus on family and health. From 2018 to 2021, Osaka won a major singles title in four consecutive years, with her streak ending in 2022.

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 2019, 2020, and 2021. Moreover, she was the 2021 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she became the first tennis player to light the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony. On the court, Osaka has an aggressive playing style with a powerful serve that can reach 201 kilometers per hour (125 mph).

Although Osaka was raised in the United States, her parents decided that their daughters would represent Japan.

Osaka never competed on the ITF Junior Circuit, the premier international junior tour, and only played in a small number of junior tournaments at any age level. She instead skipped to the ITF Women’s Circuit and played her first qualifying match in October 2011 on her 14th birthday.

She then made her professional main-draw debut in doubles at her next tournament in March with her sister Mari. Meanwhile, she did not qualify for her first singles main draw until July in her seventh such attempt. Her best result of the 2012 season came at a $10k event in Amelia Island, where she lost to her sister in the semifinals. Osaka has never won a title at the ITF level, only managing to finish runner-up on four occasions. Her first two finals came at the $25K level, one of which was in June 2013 in El Paso, Texas. The other was in March 2014 in Irapuato, Mexico, and included a victory over her sister.

In September 2013, Osaka turned professional shortly before turning 16 years old. She entered her first two qualifying draws on the WTA Tour that same month at the Challenge Bell in Quebec and the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo. The latter event was her first opportunity to compete professionally in Japan.

Osaka is an aggressive baseline player. She has excellent raw power, especially on her forehand and her serve. Osaka could hit 160 kilometers per hour (100 mph) forehands at the age of sixteen, and her serve has been clocked at up to 200 kilometers per hour (124 mph), making her one of the ten fastest servers on record in WTA history. While she can use her power to hit high numbers of winners, Osaka’s key to success is to be able to win long rallies. One of the first notable instances in which that strategy proved successful was when Osaka made her first career WTA final at the 2016 Pan Pacific Open.

Osaka credited improving her mental approach and cutting down on unforced errors for her breakthrough season in 2018. At the Wuhan Open towards the end of the year.

Osaka was coached by her father Leonard François from the age of three Patrick Tauma was one of her first coaches after she began playing on the ITF Women’s Circuit. He was her coach in 2013 when she reached her first ITF final. In 2014, she spent seven months training at an academy run by Harold Solomon, a former top-five player, and French Open finalist who has coached many top women’s tennis players including Jennifer Capriati and Mary Joe Fernández. Under Solomon, Osaka defeated Sam Stosur for her first WTA match win. Following her loss at the 2016 US Open where she could not convert a 5–1 lead in the third set, the Japan Tennis Association helped arrange for David Taylor to be her new coach.

After the 2017 season, Osaka switched coaches to Sascha Bajin, who had previously served as a hitting partner to top players such as Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, and Caroline Wozniacki. With Bajin as her coach, Osaka won her first Premier Mandatory title and two Grand Slam singles titles. She also rose to No. 1 in the world after having never previously been ranked above No. 40. Bajin was named the inaugural WTA Coach of the Year in 2018. Shortly after her 2019 Australian Open title, Osaka surprisingly split with Bajin, saying, she “wouldn’t put success over [her] happiness.”She hired Jermaine Jenkins to be her new coach from March until October. Jenkins had previously worked as a hitting partner for Venus Williams. Osaka temporarily replaced him with her father in September.

She won her first two tournaments with him back as her coach. She subsequently hired Wim Fissette at the start of the 2020 season.

Osaka is one of the most marketable athletes in the world. She earned an estimated $16 million in endorsements alone in 2019, which placed her second among female athletes behind only Serena Williams who earned $25 million. The following year, she became the highest-paid female athlete of all time, having earned $37.4 million in total, including $34 million in endorsements. Overall, she was the 29th highest-paid athlete in 2020 and the 8th highest-paid athlete in endorsements alone.

Nike has been Osaka’s apparel sponsor since 2019, having replaced Adidas who had sponsored her for four years. With Nike, Osaka has a clothing collection featuring her monogram logo that uses her initials and is inspired by the Japanese flag. The Japanese sporting equipment manufacturer Yonex has supplied her with rackets since 2008. She plays with the Yonex Ezone 98 racket, equipped with Polytour Pro 125 and Rexis 130 strings. Osaka has been represented by the IMG management company since 2016. In 2022, Osaka left IMG, to set up her own sports management agency, Evolve, alongside her agent, Stuart Duguid. On June 20, 2022, Osaka announced that she had signed Nick Kyrgios as her first client.

Osaka is a brand ambassador for Japanese automobile manufacturer Nissan and Japanese electronics manufacturer Citizen Watch. She also endorses several other Japanese companies, including noodle maker Nissin Foods, cosmetics producer Shiseido, the broadcasting station Wowow, and airline All Nippon Airways (ANA).

In January 2021, Osaka was named the brand ambassador for Tag Heuer watches, as well as for Louis Vuitton; she appeared in their Spring-Summer 2021 campaign. She is also endorsed by Beats Electronics, Bodyarmor SuperDrink, Mastercard, Panasonic, FTX, PlayStation, Levi’s, Airbnb, Sweetgreen, Workday, and GoDaddy. Her endorsement portfolio was estimated to earn Osaka up to $60 million per year. As a result of FTX’s $11 -billion bankruptcy, Osaka was sued for her involvement. In February 2022, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a lawsuit against Bitconnect that the Securities Act of 1933 extends to targeted solicitation using social media.

Panasonic announced the signing of Osaka as brand ambassador in June 2021. She is a promoter of the “Panasonic Green Impact” initiative alongside Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and Olympic figure skater Nathan Chen. Panasonic enlisted the three celebrity athletes for its sustainability mission and they were part of an ad campaign for climate change that included individual commercials and a commercial in which all three athletes are featured.

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