Naomi Osaka did come out of her cocoon well and truly.
Formerly the tennis world’s shy darling who frequently described herself as the “most awkward” player on tour, the Japanese beauty has turned into the biggest trailblazer in the sport.
Using press conferences to entertain journalists with details of cringe-worthy social experiences rather than searing analyses of the strengths and shortcomings of critics, the soft-spoken Osaka first arrived on the scene she was the queen of talking down herself.
Now, her voice is the loudest in the room — and understandably so.
The two-time grand slam champion — winner of the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open — was revealed in May as the highest-paid female athlete in the world, earning $AUD57.2 million in the intervening 12 months.
It was the largest number dropped by a woman in history, smashing Russia’s tennis star Maria Sharapova ‘s 2015 single-year earnings record of $45.5 million.
Playing well on the court certainly helps with the earnings of an athlete but where the real money is, it’s off-court endorsements. In this scenario, Osaka ‘s transformation from a shy teen to a marketing machine is noteworthy.
An apparel contract with Nike in the past year saw Osaka collect $15 million while racquet-maker Yonex is another major sponsor. Ahead of the postponed Tokyo Olympics, the 22-year-old also became a hot commodity, with sponsors including Procter & Gamble, All Nippon Airways and Nissan hopping on board.
Not bad for someone who said she was already too anxious to say hello to her idol Serena Williams as recently as last year — even after beating the American in the decision-maker for Flushing Meadows 2018.
But obviously, in her own skin, Osaka has become more relaxed-literally. She hit out at critics in July after sharing pictures of herself in a bikini on social media.
“I just wanna say it’s creeping me out how many people are commenting @ me to maintain my ‘innocent image’ and ‘don’t try to be someone you’re not’,” Osaka tweeted.
“You don’t know me, I’m 22, I wear swimsuits to the pool. Why do you feel like you can comment on what I can wear?