Humble Heroes On and Off The Court

If you’re into tennis, then you must have been pretty excited to see it dominating the Laureus World Sports Awards. The event was hosted in Seville, Spain, but it was a digital ceremony and not a traditional one. This was due to the current Coronavirus situation. However, this didn’t affect the joy we experienced to see Naomi Osaka and Rafael Nadal walking away with the Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year awards!

Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year 2021: Naomi Osaka and Rafael Nadal

For Nadal, it was his fourth time winning a Laureus award. He was awarded Sportsman of the Year before. He also has won the Revelation of the Year, and the Comeback of the Year awards. For Naomi Osaka, it was her second Laureus award, after winning the Breakthrough of the Year award in 2019.

The on-the-court achievements are definitely impressive for both tennis players. But, this is not the only impressive thing about them. The off-the-court accomplishments, their involvement in social campaigns, giving back to the community, and generosity are just as important and noteworthy.

Naomi Osaka and Rafael Nadal

Sportswoman of the Year 2021: Naomi Osaka

Laureus applauded Naomi Osaka’s open support for the “Black Lives Matter” movement. She was wearing face masks with names of Afro-Americans victims of the racial injustice at the US Open in 2020. Putting on a face mask honoring these people made Osaka even more visible. It gave her an even more prominent voice.

U.S. Open Round One Interview

When it comes to Naomi Osaka, it’s not uncommon to hear people saying, “Yeah, she was amazing on the tennis court; she won, but let me tell you what happened after.” Have you seen her in 2019 encouraging Coco Gauff with kind and heartfelt words after Coco lost the game, despite being the public’s favorite? She even turned over the mic to Coco as she sensed the US Open crowd wanted to hear from her.

A Gracious Interview: Osaka at U.S. Open YouTube Video

Gracious it’s a word that often comes to mind when talking about the Japanese tennis player.

Experts call her the most marketable athlete in the world at the moment, and it’s easy to see why. At Melbourne, she won the fourth Grand Slam of her career at only 23 years old. She is the sportswoman of the hour, and she has a fascinating life story.

And it all started with a forbidden love story. Naomi was born in October 1997. Her mother is Japanese, and her father is from Haiti. Her parents’ love story was hidden from the eyes of the world for many years as her mother was accused of bringing disgrace to the family. However, this didn’t stop Naomi’s parents from moving in together in Osaka and having two daughters – Mari and Naomi.

Inspired by the Williams Sisters

After watching Serena and Venus Williams win the Roland Garros doubles final (1999) against Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova, Naomi’s father realized that this is what he wants for his daughters too. So, Serena Williams was actually a role model for the Japanese tennis player ever since she was a little girl.

The family moved to the United States, and Mari and Naomi started training with their father. But things were not easy for the little Naomi as she was struggling and had to work harder to win against her older sister. Every day was a competition for her, and the opponent was always present. Her motivation and strong character helped her get the results she desired. And her sister, Mari, says about her that “she always believed in herself.”

Despite their hard work and results achieved on the court, the Osaka sisters didn’t receive too much attention from the USTA (United States Tennis Association), so their father decided the sisters will play for Japan. But the lack of interest and attention will soon become a distant memory as Naomi won against Sam Stosur (the number 1 player in Australia at the moment) in 2014.

The press in Japan (and worldwide) starts focusing on Naomi Osaka more and more, as she is the first Asian athlete to become WTA number 1 in 2019, after winning the second Grand Slam title at 21 years old.

A Humble Star

People say about her that she changed cultural perceptions and opened doors that were closed for a very long time. And, these barriers were not only when it comes to tennis but the world and society in general. Naomi Osaka is humble and great, all at the same time. And in 2020, at 22 years old, she became the best-paid athlete in the world, making 37.4 million dollars in one year. (Serena was the champion in the income field too – number 1 for four years in a row).

Her story sells, and experts call her a fascinating marketing product – but Naomi Osaka is much more than this.

Sportsman of the Year 2021: Rafael Nadal

The Spanish tennis player doesn’t really need an introduction. The great Iberian champion is a benchmark in tennis, but did you know that he comes from a family that was no stranger to sports? One uncle, Miguel Angel Nadal, used to be a football player (Spain National Team, FC Barcelona). Another uncle, Toni Nadal, is a former tennis player. He is the one who noticed little Rafael’s performance on the tennis court. He started his initiation in tennis when the now champion was only three years old. For a significant part of Rafael Nadal’s career, his uncle Toni was his only coach.

Did you know that as a kid, Rafael Nadal was passionate about football too? For quite some time, he trained for football and tennis in parallel. At some point, his father asked him to choose between the two sports, and the rest is history now.

At just 15 years old, Rafael Nadal became a professional tennis player. This is when he won his first game in the ATP Tour and became the 9th player to achieve this at such an early age. At 16 years old, he made it to the Wimbledon juniors’ semifinal. A year later, he brought victory to Spain in Davis Cup.

First Major Win at 19 Years Old

The first Grand Slam title of his career was won at Roland Garros in 2005 when he was just 19 years old. Over time, he won numerous awards and titles, and it is worth mentioning that he was the world leader in ATP rankings for 209 weeks.

But Rafael Nadal is more than tennis titles and awards. He is one of the most prominent athletes in the world that gets involved every time he feels the society or the community is going through rough times. While he keeps away from political matters and polemics, he didn’t shy away from putting on rain boots and grabbing a shovel when Mallorca was confronted with terrible floods.

Rafael Nadal’s Flood Clean Up YouTube Video

Nadal’s Charitable Efforts

Nadal is also involved in major charitable projects both in Spain and India. He has a strong, reliable brand, a huge fan base, and he is totally committed to using his image capital to appeal to reason when it comes to the important things in life. In his public discourse, we find the exact elements that are characteristic of his attitude on the tennis court, standing in front of his rivals. And this is probably the reason he’s now standing on a huge pedestal in our hearts, and he’s in the tennis history books forever.

In 2020, Rafael Nadal was decorated with the Great Cross of the “Orden del Dos de May.” It is the highest commendation in Spain’s capital. The honorific award was presented by the president of the Community of Madrid. Hew talked not so much about Nadal’s success on the tennis court, but his social commitment. The president mentioned that in a society often focused on getting achievements without much effort, Nadal’s involvement, his vision on sports, and life, in general, are genuine examples, not only for the young people but for the whole community.

Laureus Award Winners Support Communities

They rock on the tennis court, but they are symbols in their communities too. Both stand for social justice and tolerance, and a new understanding of the world. They teach us that kindness is a superpower that can make us invincible.

When it comes to Naomi Osaka and Rafael Nadal, it looks like the success is not only about their tennis results. It is also about their generosity and using their voices to speak up for the ones who can’t speak for themselves. And this is what sportsmanship is all about.

By Anne Matea

With a Master’s degree in Management and Communication in Business and over two decades of experience writing for the digital world, Anne loves to play with words and create fun and engaging articles. Oh, and she is a big tennis fan.


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