The 2021 Australian Open was a lot like many sporting events in the past year – empty, silent arenas that lacked the voices and cheers of fans. However, during one of the many matches played throughout the tournament, a small glimmer of hope found itself next to a Gland Slam champion. As a small monarch butterfly landed on her fingertips, Naomi Osaka treated it like the adversity she had faced throughout her career – with grace and passion. After carrying the butterfly to safety, Osaka proceeded to dismantle her opponent, winning every game in the match on her way to her fourth Grand Slam.
The daughter to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, Naomi Osaka was born in Osaka, Japan and moved to the United States when she was three. At the same time, she was introduced to tennis, and throughout the years, she quickly rose through the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings. By 2018, Osaka was dominating against the best in the sport, winning the Indian Wells Open. Later that year, she conquered the US Open, beating several experienced opponents before reaching the final against her own idol while growing up, Serena Williams. There, she took down one of the best players of all time, 6-2, 6-4, and became the first Japanese Grand Slam singles champion.
After the US Open, Osaka continued her ascendancy, winning her second Grand Slam at the 2019 Australian Open and becoming the first Asian player to be ranked No. 1 in singles. However, as COVID-19 struck the sports world and an emergence in social justice activism called athletes to use their platforms, Osaka, who had already shown the world her generational tennis talent, became a leader in the tennis community with activism. At the 2020 US Open, Osaka wore a different mask while she walked onto the court, highlighting George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, and Tamir Rice. Additionally, she participated in protests in Minnesota, demanding racial equality and an end to police brutality in America.
A young player rising up in the tennis world, Naomi Osaka is the definition of what it means to be more than an athlete. After winning the 2020 US Open and 2021 Australian Open, Osaka has become a key figure in the sports world, representing both black and Asian heritage. For me, Naomi Osaka is someone who lifts Asian American voices in a community where Asians are noticeably absent. As a former tennis player, I admire Osaka’s ability to play with intensity on and off the court. Whenever I think about my future as a Chinese American, I always wonder how the future generations of Asians will feel about their place in America; admittedly, I wasn’t proud of my heritage throughout my childhood. However, just like the butterfly that led to her victory in the Australian Open, Naomi Osaka has the ability to be the hope in a world still plagued with racism and discrimination. Through that, I can have hope that our culture and way of life will thrive with her.
Author: Devin Wu
DeclarASIAN Blog Contributor