Naomi Osaka Wins AP Female Athlete of the Year

Naomi Osaka with US Open trophy

This probably doesn’t surprise too many people. Before COVID-19 shut down the world of sports, Naomi Osaka founded herself as one of the best tennis players in the world.

Osaka won the US Open for her third Grand Slam title, as well as spoke out about racial injustice and police brutality. For her efforts in activism and on the tennis court, Osaka was named The Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year on Sunday after a vote by AP member sports editors and AP beat writers was tallied. 

Osaka is going to make a name for herself for years to come on the tennis court. However, she has been very vocal about opening discussions about police injustices against George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake. 

The Vote

One doesn’t need too many tennis tips when Osaka’s name is seen online. For that reason, Osaka collected 18 of the 35 first-place votes for a total of 71 points.

In the second place, WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart was next, receiving nine first-place votes with 60 points. She was followed by Vanderbilt soccer player Sarah Fuller, who kicked for the school’s football team. Fuller received one first-place vote and 24 points. On Saturday, LeBron James was named the AP Male Athlete of the Year. 

The Response

Osaka will be seen in plenty of ATP Finals down the road. However, what stood out was her ability to position herself as a leader for women’s tennis, but also those that watch sports across all platforms.

Her courage to speak out about the tough issues is not easy for the ordinary athlete, let alone a woman. She completed the difficult task, which was to use her platform to spark a conversation. For that, she should be commended. 

Icons such as 12-time Grand Slam champion Billie Jean King have praised Osaka for her efforts outside the tennis courts. After the shooting of Jacob Blake, Osaka joined athletes from the NBA in choosing to protest. In a tuneup tournament in New York, Osaka did not play in her semifinal match.

At the US Open, Osaka brought attention to Black victims of brutality by arriving for the matches with face masks that had the names of Floyd, Taylor, Tamir Rice, among others. The picture went viral and sparked numerous conversations about the topics. 

Unstoppable Osaka

Naomi Osaka pumped up

During the COVID-19 tennis calendar, Osaka finished 16-3. The professional tours took about a five-month layoff due to the pandemic. Wimbledon was canceled for the first time since 1945.

At the end of the year, Osaka finished No. 3 in the overall rankings. The pinnacle of her success was in August and September after she compiled an 11-match winning streak that included winning the US Open. 

Osaka is just 23 years old, so we have not seen the best of her play on the courts just yet. Assuming that coronavirus can get under control, it will be nice to see a full season of tennis prodigy.