When Serena Williams won her first Grand Slam, Naomi Osaka was a one-year-old. When she was 20, she beat Williams at the U.S. Open final to bag her first Grand Slam. She has beaten her rival again by becoming the highest paid female athlete in the whole world. In the last twelve months, Osaka earned 37.4 million USD in prize money and endorsements. The record was previously held by Maria Sharapova, with 29.7 million USD.
Currently, Osaka ranks number 29 among the top 100 richest paid athletes. With Williams at position 33, it is the first time since 2006 that two women have made it to the top 100 highest-paid athletes.
David Carter, a sports business professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business, believes that Osaka’s youthfulness and bicultural race have made her a sports marketing icon. The rise of Osaka puts an end to Williams’ domination, who’s held the position for the past four years.
On her way to the top of the money charts, Osaka demonstrated her prowess on the court. She won back-to-back Grand Slam titles in the U.S. Open in 2018 and Australian Open in 2019. She has developed into a favorite among punters on sportsbooks with her assured performances.
Osaka’s background has played a significant role in her endorsement prominence. She was born in Japan and later moved with her family to the U.S. Mari, her elder sister, plays on the pro circuit. In 2014 she turned pro at fifteen. By 2016, she had made her way to the WTA’s top 40.
Osaka won her first title at the Indian Wells in March 2018. In the following 12 months, she developed to become the first Japanese player to win the Slam. She also made history as the first Japanese tennis player to rank number one in the world.
Growing up, Osaka had dual citizenship. When the time to choose came, she made a smart decision to represent Japan. This decision came ahead of the 2020 Tokyo summer Olympics, now pushed to 2021.
Her decision proved to be a masterstroke as she has become even more marketable to Olympic sponsors. She has attracted interest from sponsors like Procter & Gamble, All Nippon Airways, and Nissin. Her selection as one of the Olympics’ faces was anticipated generating a lot of excitement from the Japanese public.
To date, Tennis is the only avenue for female athletes to rank along with top-paid male star athletes. According to Forbes, since they started tracking data on the highest-paid athletes, all top-paid female athletes have been tennis players.
Tennis agency IMG is the brand powerhouse behind Osaka’s brand. The agency has also represented Sharapova. Osaka secured a lucrative deal with Nike as her apparel sponsor. The deal that runs until 2025 saw Nike pay her more than 10 million USD.
In the contract, Osaka will only don Nike gear head to toe. No other logos will be permitted in her shirts and hats. Nike is also planning to start an Osaka streetwear, which will not include any tennis apparel. Osaka has positioned herself as a business magnet that sports sponsors like Betway and others would fight to work with.