Naomi Osaka was born 16 October 1997 to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father who moved to New York in the U.S. when she was three years old. Now she is based in Florida. In 2013, Osaka started her professional career in tennis. With a height of 180cm and a powerful serve and a strong forehand, the world saw Osaka as a rising star. In the 2016 US Open, a serve by her was timed at 201.1km/h. She qualified for the Women’s Tennis Association tour championship in July of 2014 at Bank of the West Classic for the first time. In the first round match, Osaka defeated Samantha Stosur who was ranked 19th in the world and was also the 2011 US Open Champion.
In January 2016 at the Australian Open, Osaka qualified to enter her first Grand Slam, rolling into the third round. During the day season, she also reached the third round of the French Open and the US Open. In September of that same year, Osaka entered the Toray Pan Pacific Open, where she was given a wildcard entry and rolled into her first WTA final. She was the first Japanese woman to reach the final since Kimiko Date won in 1995. Osaka placed 2nd in the final and was voted the WTA “Breakthrough of the Month.”
Osaka won “Newcomer of the Year” at the 2016 WTA Awards. In March of 2018, Naomi became the first Japanese woman to win the Indian Wells Masters in California (USA). A Premier Mandatory, Indian Wells is widely considered the second biggest event in tennis, right behind the Grand Slam.
“I have seen her play,” USA Today reported Williams saying during the tournament. “She’s really young and really aggressive. She’s a really good, talented player. Very dangerous.”
Naomi Osaka Full Biography and Profile
Naomi Osaka was born on 16 October 1997, in Osaka, Japan. Naomi’s father Leonard François is Haitian and her mother, Tamaki Osaka, is Japanese. The family moved to the Long Island, New York, when Naomi was three years old.
Naomi was raised in the United States and considers New York City, New York and Fort Lauderdale, Florida her home communities. Currently, Osaka resides in Florida. She graduated from Elmont Alden Terrace Primary in Fort Lauderdale, and her club was Harold Solomon Institute, Pro World Tennis Academy.
Growing up, Osaka idolized Serena Williams. She also looked up to her older sister, Mari, who also played tennis, but never achieved similar success. Osaka’s family moved from Japan to the U.S. when she was in preschool, which is the time when Osaka started to play tennis.
Naomi Osaka the world’s most marketable athlete for 2019
Tennis star Naomi Osaka’s tops the chart for the “World’s 50 Most Marketable Athletes 2019,” which was released by SportsPro. The London-based magazine and website stated that its comprehensive list “assesses athletes from across the world according to their marketing potential over the coming three-year period, taking into account criteria such as age, home market, crossover appeal, charisma and willingness to be marketed.”
According to SportsPro, Osaka, winner of the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open women’s singles titles, became the first Asian to be selected No. 1 for its annual list, which debuted in 2010.
At 18, Osaka was the youngest player inside the world’s top 50 when she signed with IMG Tennis in the summer of 2016. The global agency has since managed her off-court interests, spanning everything from sponsor procurement and contract negotiation to public relations and brand strategy.
“The business of Naomi Osaka is so diverse that it takes a large team of people across the world,” explains Stuart Duguid, her agent and manager at IMG Tennis. “I’m fortunate enough to spearhead it but I have to spread the credit across the whole company, right from the top. IMG Japan is peerless in its reputation and I work daily – more like nightly for me – with them.”
In Japan, Osaka is represented by Hideyuki Sakai, who also manages her compatriot and fellow IMG Tennis client, Kei Nishikori. Like Osaka, the 29-year-old ATP star has been a trailblazer for the Japanese game; with 12 titles to his name, he became the first male player from Asia to qualify for a Grand Slam singles final when he reached the US Open championship match in 2014. His success is such that he has amassed an enviable endorsement portfolio, too, one that has put him among the highest-paid tennis players on the planet despite never having lifted a major trophy.
Duguid speculates that Sakai “must see more deal flow than any other tennis agent in the world” by virtue of the heightened commercial interest in his two star clients. But, as he explains, Osaka brings her own unique opportunities.
“We’re fortunate that Naomi has the star power and personality to connect with multiple parts of the Endeavor network,” says Duguid. “For example, our books division has helped on a Manga comic series which is in the works; our non-scripted TV department are working on a project to be produced by another of our top-tier talent; and IMG Models has made various introductions in the fashion space which we are pursuing.”
While Osaka may have the full weight of the IMG machine behind her, Duguid says the overarching commercial strategy is in fact guided by the player herself. At first, he says, the strategy was to align with Japanese companies with a global presence, such as Nissan, Citizen, Shiseido and Nissin. As her profile and visibility grew exponentially, however, global brand ambassador relationships were sought with multinational corporations, such as Mastercard and P&G.
Today, Osaka’s most visible – and likely most lucrative – sponsorship is with Nike, with whom she signed a multi-year clothing deal this spring. Reports at the time speculated that Adidas, her previous apparel sponsor, was ready to make her its highest-paid female athlete ever with an offer worth some US$8.5 million a year, yet Osaka ultimately sided with a brand she knew well. Asked, during a press conference in May, why she had made the switch, she replied: “I don’t know. I guess it’s because growing up all of the people I idolised were wearing Nike.”
Osaka revealed her new partnership on social media during a visit to April’s NBA game between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, where she posed for photographs alongside fellow Nike endorsers Kevin Durant and LeBron James. It was a sure statement of her newfound stardom, underlining the crossover potential of an athlete whose personal story has already appeared prominently in publications as diverse as Vogue, Time, ESPN The Magazine and the Financial Times.
As part of the Nike deal, Osaka has teamed up with the company to create her own on-court apparel featuring a personalised logo. Nike is also in the process of producing a capsule collection of streetwear to be made available in Japan, says Duguid. “She has a very keen interest in fashion and design so these were important components of the deal,” he adds.
Another unique aspect of the Nike contract is an exemption that permits Osaka to sport the logos of other companies. Nike has traditionally demanded its players’ on-court clothing remains ‘clean’ of additional sponsors, but as well as the Swoosh Osaka also brandishes Nissin, Japan’s leading instant noodles company, and All Nippon Airways (ANA) on her clothing, and Mastercard on her headwear. The only other player to have benefitted from such a provision was Li Na, the Chinese pioneer and two-time Grand Slam champion who retired in 2014.
“Clearly it shows Nike’s passion and desire to work with Naomi, but it’s just a small part of a much bigger picture,” Duguid says of the exemption. “Nike have already been proactive in featuring Naomi in various promotions, including a huge ‘Just Do It’ campaign in Japan. As we went through this process of getting to know Nike, we found old pictures of Naomi as a child playing in ‘Just Do It’ shirts; and her mother used that line – ‘just do it’ – to encourage her and her sister to do chores around the house when they were young. So for Naomi it feels authentic, organic and somewhat of a homecoming. That’s what it’s all about.”
When it comes to commenting on athlete endorsements, Nike is notoriously tight-lipped; the company typically prefers to keep terms confidential and let its marketing do the talking. Duguid, too, refuses to be drawn on the details of the Nike deal – “nor any other contract for that matter” – only going so far as to say “both sides are very happy” with the agreement.
Duguid is equally pleased with how Osaka’s endorsement portfolio is shaping up at this early stage of her career. He draws an intriguing parallel between his client and European soccer’s Uefa Champions League – a competition also sponsored by two of her personal backers, Nissan and Mastercard.
“We were in Madrid for the final [in May] to meet with them and we are also deep in discussion with another top-tier Champions League sponsor,” he reveals. “I’d consider the Champions League as one of the world’s most recognisable events, so it’s encouraging that Naomi shares that kind of company.”
Commercially speaking, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics arrive at the perfect time for Osaka. Three of her partners – Nissin, ANA and P&G – are official sponsors of the event, and all will feature her in their marketing activities in the build-up. Together, they will help position her as the domestic face of the Games, but while Duguid acknowledges the importance of capitalising on such a rare opportunity in an athlete’s career, he is also keen to think longer term. “We’re definitely more focused on Naomi’s business for the next ten, 20, 30 years than we are one event,” he says, “albeit a historic and landmark one for her.”
To that end, Duguid sees a wealth of opportunity on the horizon. He cites fashion and esports – like many millions of her Gen Z peers, Osaka is an avid gaming fan who posts regularly on social media – as two areas in which his client “has a genuine interest” and would therefore “carefully consider” partnerships in future. Beyond that, he adds, equity investments are top-of-mind as Osaka continues to bolster her off-court interests.
“Esports is ever-evolving and we are paying close attention to make sure we play our cards right,” Duguid continues. “I’m quietly confident that we may be announcing something great soon.”
In many ways, Osaka embodies her sport – multiracial, multinational, multilayered. With an aggressive playing style and a powerful serve that belie her shy demeanour, she epitomises the raw yet elegant athleticism that has become a hallmark of the WTA, an organisation which has evolved over four decades into the most global and commercially developed of any women’s sports property.
As Chrissie Evert, the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion, wrote in her glowing vignette of Osaka as part of Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2019: ‘No one represents our more globalised, multicultural future better than this honest, polite, self-deprecating tennis life force, a potential champion for years to come.’
“What has been remarkable about Naomi, in my opinion, is her ability, at such a young age, to maintain this level of performance, and to be able to put in perspective the pressure that’s on her,” says Micky Lawler, a former Octagon executive who became WTA president at the start of 2015. “It’s all great for companies like Shiseido, Mastercard and Nissan to invest in Naomi but, like when those companies invest in the WTA, they’re looking for a big impact, they’re looking for a big return, so that adds additional pressure.
“There are not many people that can take that as well as Naomi has, or as well as the top players do – it really is about a lot more than performing at the highest level, which is already a lot. You have to deliver on so many fronts and it’s really remarkable. So the fact that you’ve got a Japanese champion who can drive so much interest in Japan and the rest of the world, because she transcends every border, is phenomenal.”
And therein lies the essence of Osaka’s marketability: for brands in the western world, her diverse heritage is widely seen as a commercial draw; a coveted asset with which to broaden an organisation’s reach and horizons.
Yet in Japan, a staunchly traditional, culturally homogenous nation where mixed-race people are still referred to as hafu, meaning ‘half’, her appeal is more nuanced. There, non-Japanese citizens are generally not held to the same standards of beauty as full Japanese. Osaka has thus come to be viewed, both by the media and those who sponsor her, as someone who can use her platform to challenge perceptions of race and colour in her native country.
“The cultural history of Japan is very complex and while I have read and spoken with a lot of people on the subject, I can’t claim to be an expert,” says Duguid, who has previously described Osaka as “an ambassador for change”. “I do know that Naomi has been widely embraced by the Japanese public and that undoubtedly spreads a positive message of inclusion and acceptance – one that Naomi is passionate to promote.”
The hot topic of race has already bubbled up in the context of Osaka’s off-court career. Earlier this year, a video ad for Nissin drew widespread criticism for appearing to ‘whitewash’ her likeness when it depicted her as a light-skinned cartoon character. “I’m tan,” Osaka reasoned after the campaign surfaced online. “It’s pretty obvious. But I definitely think that the next time they try to portray me or something, I feel like they should talk to me about it.”
Nissin subsequently apologised and pulled the ad, but that did not stop another of Osaka’s sponsors spotlighting her racial heritage, and the scrutiny directed towards her personal life, in its own marketing activities.
In a short video shot as part of Nike’s iconic ‘Just Do It’ campaign, Osaka is shown hitting balls on the court amid a bombardment of questions that have little to do with tennis. ‘Do you consider yourself Japanese or American?’ says one. ‘Don’t you think you should smile more?’ says another. ‘Will you eat katsudon again today?’
At the end of the segment, Osaka turns to the camera, unimpressed. “ssh”, she gestures, her straight face revealing nothing. And with that, a message in Japanese appears – a message that could one day prove as applicable to Osaka as it has for the Williams sisters before her, and for Billie Jean King and her fellow WTA pioneers before them: ‘Don’t change yourself. Change the world.’
“When I look 15 years into the future, I see Naomi having a great tennis career, perhaps even with Grand Slam titles,” her agent Stuart Duguid told the New York Times in August 2018. “But I also hope that she’s changed cultural perceptions of multiracial people in Japan. I hope she’s opened the door for other people to follow, not just in tennis or sports, but for all of society.”
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