Naomi Osaka made headlines in May of this year when she pulled out of the French Open due to anxiety, sharing that she’s “suffered long bouts of depression.” Osaka, 23, was born in Japan to a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved with her family to the U.S. at age 3 and now the four-time Grand Slam champion made history. The world’s No. 2-ranked tennis player is now the first Haitian and first Japanese woman to be on the cover of the Sport Illustrated, Osaka proudly shared on Twitter. Osaka, along with rapper Megan Thee Stallion, and Pose actress Leyna Bloom, were photographed by Yu Tsai for the Swimsuit issue.
First Haitian and Japanese woman on the cover 🇭🇹🇯🇵❤️ pic.twitter.com/SLcKNSrSkH
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) July 19, 2021
“I’m so proud to be the first Japanese and Haitian woman to grace one of the covers. I feel like that multi-cultural background is present in all of the things that I do. I try to incorporate it in everything, so hopefully, you see that,” Osaka told Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. “My memories [of the magazine] kind of involves the people that I grew up admiring, so I remember Tyra Banks’s issue, I remember Beyonce’s. Just growing up and watching so many incredible women grace this cover, for me, it feels like a dream.”
She’s been recognized by Sports Illustrated in the past after being named a 2020 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year for her activism for mental health. She was also recently recognized as the Best Female Athlete at the 2021 ESPYs and will represent Team Japan in the Tokyo Games later this month. She’s also not alone in this historic moment as Megan Thee Stallion is the first rapper to be on the cover of SI and Bloom is the first transgender cover model. Osaka is also the first Black athlete to be on the cover of the issue and she shared that her identity is woven into all the work she does.
“I feel like that multi-cultural background is present in all of the things that I do. I try to incorporate that in everything, so hopefully you’ll see that,” she told SI. She also opened up about what she would share with her younger self: “I would just tell myself to trust the process and not compare yourself to other people. That’s sort of what I try to do on the tennis court.”
She continues to use her platform to advocate for mental health and SI Swimsuit editor-in-chief MJ Day recognized that saying they celebrate her “passion, strength, and power geared towards consistently breaking barriers when it comes to equality, social justice, and mental health.”