No one is having a bigger year than Naomi Osaka. She has multiple fashion deals, a Netflix documentary coming out, a Barbie made in her likeness — and we didn’t even get to her tennis career [she’ll be competing for Team Japan at the Tokyo Olympics]. Now, she can add one more outstanding extracurricular to her résumé: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue cover star.
The four-time Grand Slam singles champion, 23, landed on the coveted cover, modeling a sporty-meets-sexy black asymmetrical one-piece with sheer panels, accessorized with statement seashell hoop earrings.
Photographed by Yu Tsai, Osaka joins two other stars [rapper Megan Thee Stallion and actress Leyna Bloom] to front the 2021 issue with their own individual covers.
“If there’s one thing that our cover models have in common, it’s that they don’t have one thing in common,” says MJ Day, Editor in Chief of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit in a press release. “They look different, have different upbringings, have different passions and inspirations. But each is a reminder that beauty comes in many forms.”
Bloom also made history as the first transgender cover model, while Megan represents the first rapper to ever land the spot. As for Osaka, Day says, “We celebrate Naomi for her passion, strength and power geared toward consistently breaking barriers when it comes to equality, social justice and mental health.”
Together, Day says the stars “represent three of the most powerful voices of today.”
Recently, the tennis champ made the decision to withdraw from the French Open in May and Wimbledon in June, citing efforts to preserve her mental health. Osaka previously shared that she’s suffered from depression since 2018.
Penning a powerful essay for Time magazine earlier this month, the tennis pro opened up about putting her self-care first, explaining that athletes deserve “the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions.”
The 2020 Olympics, starting July 23, will mark her return to the court. In a new video promoting the Summer Games, Osaka says she wants “to inspire” other girls who may, like her, have been told they “don’t fit the box of what an Olympian should be.”
“People might think I’m quiet, different … but I am proof that the definition is bigger than people think,” Osaka said in a voiceover.
“I want to inspire girls out there watching right now — the ones that some people think are too different, too quiet, too something. And if we don’t fit that expectation of what people think we’re supposed to be, good,” Osaka adds. “That just means we’re the ones who get to change it.”
Osaka is not only breaking barriers when it comes to tennis and championing athletes’ mental health, but she’s been steadily rising in another passion of hers: fashion design. She has collaborated with brands including Nike, Adeam and Frankie’s Bikinis, designed limited-edition pieces for Strathberry and Comme des Garçons, and recently starred in Louis Vuitton, TAG Heuer and Levi’s campaigns.
“I’d like to start my own brand one day, probably together with my sister, but for now I’m loving collab’ing with some great designers and learning the craft and the business,” Osaka told PEOPLE earlier this year, referring to her older sister Mari Osaka, who is also a professional tennis player.
Whether through her designs, performance on the court — or major modeling gigs like SI Swim! — Osaka always brings that fierce confidence that’s bound to inspire others.