Naomi Osaka graces January cover of Vogue

The tennis superstar reflects on what it's been like becoming an international phenomenon since the 2018 U.S. Open final.

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Vogue magazine has received a lot of flack this year for its lack of diversity, but it may have scored cool points with tennis fans across the globe by featuring rising star Naomi Osaka on its January cover.

In the cover story which hails the Haitian-Japanese as the “People’s Champ,” Osaka reflects on what it’s been like becoming an international phenomenon in the two years since she notoriously defeated Serena Williams in a contentious U.S. Open final.

2020 US Open - Day 14
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 13: Naomi Osaka of Japan poses with the US Open trophy the morning after winning the Women’s Singles Final on Day Fourteen of the 2020 US Open. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

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“That shy label has stuck with me through the ups and downs of my career,” she says of her reputation for responding matter-of-factly to even the most precarious questions. “But I think people who have watched me grow would say that I navigate situations better, that I’m better able to express myself.”

But in 2020, as a global pandemic and social justice protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder sparked national debates, the 23-year-old has outwardly become a social justice advocate who boldly uses her platform to make political statements – both on and off the court.

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“As tennis players, we’re so hyper-focused on what happens on the court, and we think our life is sort of determined by whether we win a match or not,” she says. “That’s not true. I think that the pandemic gave me the chance to go into the real world and do things that I wouldn’t have done without it.”

“I feel like this is something that was building up in me for a while,” explains Osaka, who was 14 and living in Boca Raton, Florida, when Trayvon Martin was fatally shot just three hours away.

“I watched the Trayvon stuff go down. For me that was super-scary. I travel so much during the year that I don’t always know the news that’s centered in the U.S. But then when the pandemic hit, there were no distractions. I was forced to look.”

Of the time off she’s been afforded during the lockdown, she admits, “I’d never had a break like this before in my life,” noting, “so I just tried to clear my mind.” 

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