Naomi Osaka is the second of Vogue’s four stunning January 2021 cover stars.
The 23-year-old tennis pro discusses the Black Lives Matter protests, speaking out about the things that are important to her in the accompanying interview.
Days after George Floyd’s death on May 25, Osaka and her boyfriend of two years, rapper Cordae, flew to Minneapolis to join the Black Lives Matter protests.
Osaka admits she had never been to a rally of any kind in her life, sharing: “I don’t think it matters if you’re shy or not, or if you’re introverted or extroverted. You’re just there in the moment. When you see it in real life—so many cameras filming everyone, police with guns outside the city hall, the parents of other victims telling their stories—it kind of hits you differently. You’re able to process it on your own terms.”
The sportswoman famously wore masks showing names of Black victims of police brutality at the U.S. Open, telling the magazine: “I was just thinking that I had this opportunity to raise awareness. Tennis is watched all around the world, so people who might not know these names can google them and learn their stories. That was a big motivator for me, and I think it helped me win the tournament.”
Osaka goes on to discuss her identity: “I consider myself Japanese-Haitian-American. I always grew up with a little bit more Japanese heritage and culture, but I’m Black, and I live in America, and I personally didn’t think it was too far-fetched when I started talking about things that were happening here. There are things going on here that really scare me.”
Talk then turns to tennis, with her saying of her idol Serena Williams, whom she beat in the 2018 U.S. Open final: “There’s a lot of things she’s so much better at. She’s more aggressive. She knows when to go for her shots. Sometimes she hits really big service returns, and I can’t do that at all.
“Honestly, I’m kind of scared of her. Not scared scared but—I’m intimidated, and I get very shy when she’s like 10 feet away from me. That really affected me at the U.S. Open finals in 2018, but I had worked so hard for that moment, and I felt like if I were to be intimidated or show that I was scared of her, she would capitalize on that. When I’m stepping on the court, I have to treat her as a tennis player, not as Serena Williams.”