Naomi Osaka: The three-time grand slam champion who has found her voice to become tennis’ new leader


The 23-year old has used her platform to bring to light the victims of racial violence during her title run in the US Open and this included posting an Instagram story on the protests on the killing of George Floyd by the hands, or should I say knees, of the police.

After the death of Floyd, a black man killed by a police officer that knelt on his neck for seven minutes and 46 seconds, Osaka flew with her boyfriend, rapper Cordae, to Minneapolis to join the protests against the unlawful killing.

She felt that enough was enough and that a call to action needed immediately.

The young talent has seemed to be a player who has shied away from the limelight as she has mainly concentrated on her work on the court.

During times where she has had to talk during an acceptance speech or interview, she has seemed very timid, shy and uncomfortable in front of a crowd of people but that does mean that the two-time US Open champion hasn’t got a powerful voice for the world to hear.

Osaka was born in Japan to a Japanese mother, Tamaki, and Haitian father, Leonard, before the family moved to New York at the young age of three.

She has stated in her Esquire article how her multicultural background has led to “people struggling to define” her.

“I’m a daughter, a sister, a friend and a girlfriend. I’m Asian, I’m black and I’m female. I’m as normal a 22-year-old as anyone, except I happen to be good at tennis. I’ve accepted myself as just me: Naomi Osaka,” she wrote.

In recent months she has been labelled as an activist due to continued protests against police brutality of black minorities in the US.

This includes pulling out of the Western Southern Open semi-final to protest against the shooting of another black man, Jacob Blake, by the police in Wisconsin which led to the tournament pausing for one day.

She claims that she is more of a follower but her actions don’t seem to follow what she says. She wanted to take the first step and create awareness in the tennis bubble.

“Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman,” Osaka said. “And as a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis.”

Osaka continued her fight against police brutality and racial injustice during one of the sport’s biggest tournaments – a Grand Slam event.

Before and after each US Open match, she wore a mask with the names of black people who were killed by the police.

Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain. George Floyd. Philando Castile. Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin.

So each win meant that she could display a name that gave her extra motivation to up her game on the court. Wim Fisette, her coach, explained that she can be a role model on and off the court.

Last summer during the grass-court season in the United Kingdom, Osaka realised that she could use her voice more after she watched the Netflix series called When They See Us. A drama based on a true story of five black male teenagers from Harlem who were falsely accused of a sexual attack at Central Park in New York.

Her former coach, Jermaine Jenkins, who was with her at the time felt that It game Naomi a different perspective and view and how black men are treated in America.

“I feel that really touched her heart. No-one can really watch that without crying. It made her really sad and we discussed it, had a conversation about it and it makes me proud to see her come out and be the advocate that she is.” said Jenkins.

“As a black man in America it is empowering and makes me feel great she is stepping up, taking the heat and standing up for what, in my opinion, is right. This is now her platform.”

As well as raising awareness amongst her fans, her fellow tennis players are also taking note including Stefanos Tsitsipas, the world number six seed, who wore a Black Lives Matter shirt during the US Open. Osaka explained how proud she was of her friend to ask questions about racial injustice and inequality.

Osaka wanted to start the conversation on race in a predominantly white sport as many people within the sport would not understand the troubles of racism suffered by black people.

Even though there several high-profile black players in tennis such as the Williams sisters, Coco Gauff, Gael Monfils and Frances Tiafoe – there is a limited amount of black coaches, agents or members of the media.

Tiafore, an American who reached the last 16 in the US Open, is proud of what Osaka has done to bring focus to the racial injustice in the US.

“I bet a lot of people weren’t for that, but she believed in something. She’s coming out with a different mask every night. She’s trending. She definitely figured out, she’s definitely woke,” said the American.

Even though the focus of her protest has been on tackling racism in the US, the three-time Grand Slam champion would like to use the global platform of tennis to raise awareness on social injustice.

“I feel like definitely that would be the end goal, because tennis is an international event. It’s played by so many people around the world,” Osaka said back in September.

She has felt that there is a great opportunity to speak out about subjects where it gets more players talking on a larger scale.