Naomi Osaka hits back at critics over release of her Sports Illustrated cover

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Tennis star Naomi Osaka has hit back after she was criticised for appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit.

The 23-year-old became the first female Black athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit yesterday. She shares the historic cover with two other models – rapper Megan Thee Stallion and activist Leyna Bloom.

Osaka’s appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated followed cover features in Vogue Japan, Vogue Hong Kong and Time Magazine. In addition, she recently released a Netflix documentary about her journey in tennis so far, and last week came out with a best-selling Barbie doll.

The four-time Grand Slam winner stepped back from the tennis court in June after withdrawing from the French Open. She had chosen to avoid press conferences at the Grand Slam, a decision which sparked an avalanche of debate and criticism. In response, Osaka pulled out of the tournament completely in order to protect her mental health.

Osaka has now been criticised for appearing on magazine covers while taking time away from sport. Conservative commentator Clay Travis posted on Twitter: “Since saying she’s too introverted to talk to the media after tennis matches, Naomi Osaka has launched a reality show, a Barbie, and now is on the cover of the SI swimsuit issue.”

His post was jumped on by ex-Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, who wrote: “Let’s not forget the cover of (& interview in) Vogue Japan and Time Mag!” In a now deleted-response, Osaka slammed Kelly for her lack of research.

“Seeing as you’re a journalist I would’ve assumed you would take the time to research what the lead times are for magazines, if you did that you would’ve found out I shot all of my covers last year,” Osaka wrote to Kelly on Twitter.

“Instead your first reaction is to hop on here and spew negativity, do better Megan.”

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Osaka is set to return to the tennis court this summer at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The Japanese player will be hoping to clinch a home gold medal, although she will have to compete in an empty Ariake Tennis Park due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

Osaka has become one of the leading lights in women’s tennis after her breakthrough victory at the 2018 US Open. She went on to win the Grand Slam again in 2020, also triumphing at the Australian Open in 2019 and earlier this year.

The star has also gained significant recognition as an activist. Before each match at last year’s US Open, Osaka entered the Arthur Ashe Stadium wearing a facemask bearing the name of a victim of racism and police brutality in the United States. As her run in the tournament was a winning one, she had the opportunity to wear seven different masks in total.

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