Naomi Osaka turns 23 next month but at her young age, she is more poised and mature than most people in this country and world. Fresh off her September 12 victory at the US Open, the young tennis phenom and three-time Grand Slam singles champion donned a Kobe Bryant Mamba Week jersey – like she has after every match – and snapped an IG photo with her trophy saying “I wore this jersey every day after my matches. I truly think it gave me strength. Always 💛💜.”
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For those who don’t know, Kobe attended one of her US Open matches last year, along with Colin Kaepernick, and she put on a show for the two of them by winning in straight sets because “For me, it wasn’t pressure. It was just like I really didn’t want them to sit in the sun too long, honestly. That was the thing that was on my mind.” As a mentor to the young tennis star, Black Mamba used to text her positive messages and famously said to her “No, be better” when she told him she wanted to be just as good as him one day.
That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg though. In 2018, Osaka had to play and defeat her idol Serena Williams (in a match where Serena was constantly talking back and forth with the officials) to claim world’s No. 1 – it was the first time an Asian player held the top ranking in singles. Born to a Haitan father and Japanese mother, Osaka has fought for everything she’s earned on the world’s grandest stages.
This US Open was especially important for her as her activism was the voice for all the oppressed. During each match, Osaka wore a black face mask with the name of a victim of racial injustice, systematic racism and police brutality. Breonna Taylor. Elijah McClain. Ahmaud Arbery. Trayvon Martin. George Floyd. Philando Castile. Tamir Rice. The significance of this was huge because singles tennis is one of the few sports where an athlete plays for themselves, is alone on the court and everything they do is examined. Consciously using her star power and presence, as well as her play, Osaka proved that she’s mature beyond her years and that she really cares.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 12, 2020
When asked about the masks after her win and the message she wanted to send, Naomi responded, “Well, what was the message that you got is more the question. I feel like the point is to make people start talking.” And during her press conference, she replied “I just want to be the type of person that he thought I was going to be. He thought I was going to be great, so hopefully, I will be great in the future,” in response to being asked about Kobe’s belief in her.
“I just want to be the type of person that he thought I was going to be. He thought I was going to be great, so hopefully, I will be great in the future.”@naomiosaka on Kobe Bryant’s belief in her 💜💛 pic.twitter.com/g0T9DwY9Ve
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 13, 2020
It’s hard to believe at the age of 22 Naomi Osaka’s championship pedigree is so strong but what’s even more amazing is that she’s such a beautiful human being, inside and out – an athlete that everyone of us should look up to and learn from. Congratulations Naomi, you’re a Queen and we can’t wait to see how high you go!
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Photo via Naomi Osaka