Naomi Osaka received her award during a virtual ceremony.

Rafu Wire and Staff Reports

Tennis star Naomi Osaka on Thursday was named a winner of Laureus’ 2021 Sportswoman of the Year Award, becoming the first Japanese to receive the honor. 

Osaka won her second U.S. Open in 2020, her third career Grand Slam, at the age of 22, beating Victoria Azarenka by two sets to one in the final. She has now won a Grand Slam in each of the last three years. 

She won the Laureus Breakthrough of the Year Award in 2019, becoming the first Japanese to win any or the organization’s honors, and was nominated for Sportswoman of the Year in 2020. 

She is the first Asian player to have reached world No.1. Her activism on Black Lives Matter led to her being recognized as one of the 2020 Sports Illustrated Sportspersons of the Year.

“It is an honor to once again be nominated for a Laureus Award by the world’s media,” Osaka said. “For me this is special because Laureus sees the big picture — not just sport on the court or the pitch, but how it can help young people around the world.”

The award was presented by Alpine skier Lindsay Vonn.

After receiving the award, Osaka said, “I think it is important to use my voice, because for me, I feel like I often hold back a lot and worry about what people think of me, but you know if you have a platform it is very important to use it.

“Looking ahead, my main hopes for the future would be just to have helped or impacted as many people as I could and, hopefully, be a better person.”

In Tokyo, Los Angeles and on Haiti, a generation of young women who are part of Osaka’s Play Academy project in these three diverse locations saw their role model honored.

Play Academy with Naomi Osaka – developed in association with Laureus Sport for Good and Nike – aims to encourage young women to find their voice through sport. It’s about developing confidence and leadership skills. Osaka’s message to those she inspires – that once you put yourself out there, anything is possible – had another perfect illustration.

She was watched, too, across the U.S. by family members of the seven victims of police shootings she honored during her run to the 2020 U.S. Open title. She walked onto court for each match wearing a face mask bearing the name of a different victim. She brought the global conversation over police violence against the black community onto the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium in one of the boldest, most memorable statements from a year in which athletes used their platforms to change the world.

The other nominees were: Anna Van Der Breggen, cycling, The Netherlands; Breanna Stewart, basketball, USA; Brigid Kosgei, athletics, Kenya; Federica Brignone, skiing, Italy; Wendie Renard, football, France.

World Sportsman of the Year also went to a tennis player, Rafael Nadal of Spain, who equalled Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam men’s titles by winning last year’s French Open.

Other honorees were:

World Breakthrough — Patrick Mahomes, American football, USA

World Team of the Year — Bayern Munich, football, Germany

World Comeback of the Year — Max Parrot, snowboarding, Canada (Badminton player Kento Momota of Japan was among the nominees)

Sport for Good — Kickformore by Kickfair, football, Germany

Lifetime Achievement — Tennis legend Billie Jean King (Osaka was among the athletes who paid tribute to King during the ceremony)

Athlete Advocate — British racing driver Lewis Hamilton

Sporting Inspiration — Liverpool and Egypt striker Mohamed Salah

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