Naomi Osaka, the young tennis star whose mortification across the net from her idol, Serena Williams, added to a memorable TV spectacle at the U.S. Open Saturday night, has rebounded to score a major endorsement deal.
Nissan held a news conference to announce it had signed the 20-year-old Japanese player as a brand ambassador. Advertising and sponsorship specialists predict a lot of such opportunities lie ahead for Osaka, who was born in Japan to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother and raised mostly in the U.S.
In a match that drew strong ratings on ESPN, Osaka beat Williams in straight sets to win the women’s singles Open title. Viewers could not have guessed that she won by looking at her crestfallen, teary-eyed expression throughout the immediate aftermath of the match. After sparring with the chair umpire, Williams was given a one-game penalty late in the climactic second set, sealing the win for Osaka. Williams in the moment blamed sexism, sparking a debate about the way female tennis players are judged.
For Osaka, who four years ago took a selfie with Williams outside the same court, the notion that she was the opposing player handed an advantage by the umpire seemed to fill her with agony. During the ESPN broadcast of the trophy ceremony, Williams tried to quiet the raucous, booing crowd of 20,000-plus and put her arm around Osaka.
Little time at the news conference was devoted to replaying the wrenching Open final. Instead, the prevailing theme was Nissan’s belief in Osaka’s ability to connect with young consumers globally. (Other brands see the same potential, as evidenced by her deals with Adidas, Citizen Watch and others.)
Osaka’s multi-racial identity is unusual in Japan, and she was asked at the news conference about how that factored into the Nissan relationship.
“It’s not something that I have to think about. For me, it’s just who I am,” she said, per Reuters. “I don’t think I’m a mix of three whatever, I just think I am me.”