During Grand Slams, Naomi Osaka remembers hearing the phrase “Don’t crack under pressure” and chanting it to herself before matches. “[I] always thought that was a really powerful motto,” says the tennis star. Unbeknownst to her, the phrase came from ad campaigns for luxury watching company Tag Heuer. To celebrate her new brand ambassadorship with the Swiss watchmaker, Osaka speaks to L’OFFICIEL to talk about how the partnership has been a “full-circle moment."
Like many, Osaka’s tennis career began in her youth. Inspired by sisters Serena and Venus Williams, Osaka’s father Leonard François began training her and her sister, though he had little to no prior experience with the sport himself. “I’m someone who grew up playing tennis and wanted to become good enough to play on a global scale and somehow, I did it,” she says.
Today, at 23 years old, Osaka is one of the leading female tennis players in the world—the first Asian singles player to have a top ranking—and is currently the reigning champion of the U.S. Open, with other title wins from the same tournament in 2018 and the Australian Open in 2019. However, since her rise to the top of the sports world, Osaka has been able to follow other passions, including fashion, something she says has been a part of her life since her youth.
For the Fall/Winter 2020 season, Osaka collaborated with Adeam on a capsule collection that reflected on her Japanese heritage. Within the last month, the athlete has also been tapped for brand ambassadorships with both Tag Heuer and Louis Vuitton. But above the status symbol of working with luxury brands, Osaka appreciates the artistic impact that fashion can have on a person's life.
“On and off the court, fashion plays a really big role," Osaka says. "To me, it’s another way to express one’s individuality. It’s empowering that everyone can dress differently and make real statements based on what they are wearing. That’s probably why I like wearing pieces that no one else can have. I love going to boutiques and finding something completely unique and unexpected.”
While she may enjoy the individualism of her style, it’s the similarities in values that drew Osaka to Tag Heuer, as they are both, “high precision, high performance,” while also prioritizing innovation. She says, “For me, that means being curious and getting out of your comfort zone. I don’t want to be someone that just goes with the flow and doesn’t really think for herself.”
For an example of this, just look at Osaka’s 2020. Last year, she used her platform to call attention to racial injustice in the U.S. following the growing number of Black victims of police brutality. In August, Osaka—who is half-Japanese, half-Haitian—dropped out of the Cincinnati Open to protest the recent shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Weeks later, throughout the U.S. Open—where she took home the title win—the young star wore COVID-19 face masks each day with the names of different victims of racial violence.
While discussing the decision to publicize her activism, Osaka admits that it wasn’t planned. “It was something that had been bothering me for quite some time and it felt like the right thing to do,” she explains. “I always knew that I wanted to speak up, I just didn’t quite know how, and I’m constantly being inspired by things that are happening off the court.”
Despite the stressful past several months, Osaka believes in maintaining a balanced lifestyle by finding ways to decompress at the end of the day. “I love listening to music, playing video games, sketching, reading manga or watching anime, and cooking," she says. "I also have a group FaceTime with my best friends almost every day.”
Currently, Osaka is quarantining in Australia, gearing up for the Australian Open which begins next month. The tennis champion is going into the competition ranked third. While the competition this year is undoubtably fierce, one thing is certain: you won't see her crack under pressure.