A Grand Slam winner who has called herself an “advocate for change.” The highest-paid female athlete of all time. A fashion icon in the making. Yes, Naomi Osaka is all those things, and she says her one constant through all of it has been staying true to herself.
But since winning her first Slam singles title at the US Open in 2018, the 23-year-old tennis star has seen the highs and lows of global fame.
That first victory in 2018 was a microcosm of both, with Osaka reaching the top of the tennis world amid a controversial call against opponent Serena Williams that turned up the heat from the New York crowd. Osaka described the moment as not “necessarily the happiest memory” and recently said it contributed to “bouts with depression and anxiety.” A self-described introvert, Osaka has since tried to balance the platform — and the spotlight along with it — that has come from her on-court success.
Along with winning three more Slam singles titles, she has struggled with public interviews. “I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media,” Osaka wrote after withdrawing from the French Open, citing mental health issues. But she has seemingly searched for other ways to speak out, whether it be through protests against social injustice or by appearing on the cover of Vogue to releasing her own Barbie doll.
“I think the amount of attention I get is kind of ridiculous. No one prepares you for that,” Osaka says in her recently released Netflix documentary. “I always had this pressure to maintain this squeaky-clean image, but now, I don’t care what anyone has to say.”
As Osaka prepares to step onto the biggest international stage of her career in her home country at the Tokyo Olympics, we look back at the Osaka’s evolution since her first Slam victory in 2018.