Naomi Osaka has been named Sportswoman of the Year at the Laureus World Sports Awards for her achievements on and off court, and Billie Jean King was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Laureus Academy.
This is Osaka's second recognition at the Laureus Sports Awards. She won Breakthrough of the Year in 2019 after a season that saw her win her first WTA title at the BNP Paribas Open and begin her ascent to the top of the game with her first US Open title that fall. She was also nominated for Sportswoman of the Year in 2020 after a season in which she captured her first Australian Open title and become the first Japanese player to ascend to World No.1.
🏆 The 2021 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year is @naomiosaka— Laureus (@LaureusSport) May 6, 2021
On the court, Naomi made it two @usopen titles in three years. Off it, she demonstrated incredible activism and support for the Black Lives Matter movement 👏#Laureus21 pic.twitter.com/tPQ05oPVJ8
“I’ve watched so many of my role models win this [Sportswoman] Award, so it definitely means a lot now to be holding it," Osaka said in her acceptance speech. "I am so happy to receive it. It really means a lot to me."
Coming out of a season interrupted by the sport's shutdown due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Osaka emerged as the dominant force on hard courts. The 24-year-old marched through the US summer season, making the Western & Southern Open final before capturing the US Open, her third major title. She continued her form in 2021, winning back-to-back Slams for the second time in her career after capturing her fourth major, at the Australian Open in February.
Osaka's impact was not limited between the tramlines. During the Western & Southern Open, Osaka joined in the athlete-led protests regarding racial injustice in America, a decision that led to a one-day stoppage in play. At the US Open, in an effort to raise awareness of racial injustice, Osaka wore seven masks with seven names of black victims of racial violence.
“Regarding my activism on the court, I think it is important to use my voice, because for me I feel like I often hold back a lot and worry about what people think of me, but you know if you have a platform it is very important you use it," Osaka said.
"Looking ahead my main hopes for the future would be just to have helped or impacted as many people as I could and, hopefully be a better person.”
She founded the @WTA in 1973 on the principle of equal opportunity and won 129 singles titles during her career 👏@BillieJeanKing’s influence not just on the world of tennis but wider sport as well, is acknowledged in her Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award 🏆 #Laureus21 pic.twitter.com/nDjxWtEudH— Laureus (@LaureusSport) May 6, 2021
Martina Navratilova presented King with her Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition of her excellence on the tennis court as well as her life's work in pursuit of gender and racial equality.
"The Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award is not only given to athletes who are undoubtedly great," Navratilova said. "This award is given to those who have managed to maintain that greatness over an entire career and beyond, and who have maintained that greatness on the track, field, court, or pitch, and applied it to a life supporting others."
Said King in her acceptance speech: "I'm a product of the public parks of Long Beach, California and I was extremely fortunate to have the access and opportunity to free coaching and instruction. It changed my life and opened my eyes. I knew after my first practice with coach Clyde Walker, that I wanted to be the number one player in the world.
"Then at 12 years old, I was thinking about my sport and I noticed everyone who played tennis wore white clothes, played with white balls and everyone who played was white. And I asked myself, where is everyone else? From that moment on, I decided to dedicate my life to equal rights and opportunities for all.
"I have a vision where the world of sports looks more like our world. Represented equally by people of all genders and all races and cultures, a world where we all have a seat at the table, a voice in the conversation and a chance to lead."
💬 "Sport, especially tennis has given me a wonderful opportunity to live my dream. Sport also gave many of us a platform to improve our world."— Laureus (@LaureusSport) May 6, 2021
Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, @BillieJeanKing 🙌 pic.twitter.com/4HSwmblbXs
Tennis left an indelible mark on the Laureus Awards in 2021. In addition to Osaka and King's awards, Rafael Nadal won his fourth Sportsman of the Year Award and reigning Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek was nominated for Breakthrough of the Year.