Meet the 19-year-old Japanese tennis star who has charmed Sports Illustrated with her new-found fame

Naomi Osaka captured the spotlight this week when she won the Aegon Classic tennis tournament, making her the first Japanese female player to win an ITF tour singles title. She performed so well, the first tournament she played on the U.S. tour after three years away from tennis, that she has been named Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Rookie of the Year. As a result, photo shoots for her 2018 calendar are well underway.

The 19-year-old is not the only athlete with Japanese heritage to gain international fame this year, after the Japanese divers competed at the Rio Olympics. However, fans would be hard-pressed to find many photos of the two divers, Sanya Richards-Ross and Kosuke Hagino, or photos like these of Osaka, taken by the Atlantic.

Osaka, who is also a professional tennis player, spoke to The New York Times about her newfound fame. “No one ever expects a 19-year-old Japanese girl to be like this,” she said, adding that she hopes to be able to use her influence to become more involved in her community and inspire “not just women but men.”

Before Osaka’s victory in Birmingham, England, last week, Richards-Ross also spoke about her new-found-fame. “I have to say I have been touched so deeply by all the messages from around the world that came from this that I will give all of it back. It’s an opportunity to help others,” she said.

For the August issue of Sports Illustrated, Nao Kim, a Tokyo-based editor at digital news outlet The Guardian, produced a series of pictures of Osaka, using the trailblazing model as a stepping stone. The calendar of Osaka, her friends, and the athletes she aims to influence launches on Wednesday, June 14.

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