Naomi Osaka makes her ‘Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’ debut on 2021 cover

Naomi Osaka has already taken the world by storm as she’s gained recognition for her prowess on the tennis court. However, within the past year and a half alone, the 23-year-old has used her platform not only for her sport but also for important causes that she cares deeply about including mental health and racial injustice. On Monday, she showed another side of herself on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover, following in the footsteps of trailblazing women who came before her.

“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.”

Naomi Osaka strikes a powerful pose on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. (Photo: Yu Tsai/Sports Illustrated)

Naomi Osaka strikes a powerful pose on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. (Photo: Yu Tsai/Sports Illustrated)

Osaka is no stranger to the Sports Illustrated brand after being named a 2020 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year for her activism. She was also recently awarded as the Best Female Athlete at the 2021 ESPYs. MJ Day, editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit tells Yahoo Life that Osaka’s ability to use her words wisely is just one of many reasons that she landed one of this year’s cover spots.

“She’s completely resilient. But she has this whole other side to her where she goes on a court, she says nothing. She wears a mask that says everything,” Day says, referring to Osaka’s selection of face masks at the 2020 U.S. Open that highlighted the names of Black victims of police brutality. 

Even more recently, Osaka was supported by people around the world while announcing that she was withdrawing from the French Open in an effort to protect her mental health after requesting to skip press at the event. “Her silence says everything,” Day explains. “Her ability to get the world to pay attention to such an important thing. That is her superpower.”

As a powerhouse athlete who has been deemed one of the greatest in the world, Osaka’s discussions of mental health are unprecedented. She also talked to Sports Illustrated Swimsuit about body confidence after posing in swimwear.

“You can see someone and think they’re the most confident person but deep down, I think that everyone’s a bit insecure of something. I know a lot of people say fake it until you make it and I think there’s a lot of people that are really good at that,” she shared with the magazine. “I feel like if you’re confident in something then eventually it’ll sort of catch on and you’ll just become a confident person.”

She continued, “If I could give a piece of advice to my 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.”

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