Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka is now playing on Team Nike — although some were looking for her to go a different direction in the ultracompetitive world of sports marketing deals.
Nike revealed its partnership with Japanese-born Osaka, the world’s number-one women’s single tennis player, on Thursday. But fans will have to wait until the Stuttgart Grand Prix, which begins April 22, to see the 21-year-old tennis player on the courts in Nike gear.
The news came as a bit of a surprise as many thought Osaka was courting a new corporate beau.
In September, after Osaka nabbed the U.S. Open title from Serena Williams, Osaka was rumored to be in talks with rival Adidas for an apparel endorsement worth an estimated 6.5 million pounds, or $8.5 million. She already had a deal with Adidas, but the rumored arrangement would have made the tennis star the highest-paid female athlete ever to sign with Adidas. Osaka was also seen sporting Adidas apparel as recently as January while competing in the Australian Open.
While Nike nabbed Osaka, the jilted Adidas had some blockbuster news of its own — which it chose to release the same day the Nike-Osaka tie-up was announced.
According to a statement released by the company, neither Adidas nor the musician “ascribes to the typical stereotypes of athletes and what ath-leisure clothing and footwear should be, and instead, will bring to life a shared vision of inclusion that will forever alter the opportunities and landscape for all.”
As for Osaka, a representative from Adidas confirmed to WWD in an e-mail that the sportswear giant has “enjoyed a strong collaboration with Naomi Osaka over the last four years and it’s been a privilege to be part of her journey from grassroots to international tennis star. We wish her continued success in the future.”
Osaka said in a statement that she was looking forward to being part of the Nike family “for many years to come.”
On Friday, the athlete posted to both her Instagram and Twitter accounts a photo of herself (pictured below) posed in front of a Nike advertisement, with a caption that read, “I’m really grateful for this opportunity and I’m super excited for the future @Nike. Thank you.”
View this post on Instagram
Sorry I know I’ve posted a lot. Last one for a bit I promise 🙏 I just wanted to say this is so insane to me, to have a billboard outside the staples center?!!! Lost for words… I’m really grateful for this opportunity and I’m super excited for the future @nike 🤗❤️ thank you
Nike would not release further details regarding the relationship with Osaka. But Amy Montagne, Nike’s vice president and general manager of Global Categories, said Osaka, who won her first Grand Slam titles at last year’s U.S. Open before going on to win the Australian Open a few months later, was an inspiration to athletes who “chase their crazy dreams.”
“Naomi is an incredible talent to add to our roster and help drive our commitment to inspiring a new generation of female athletes,” Montagne said. “We are thrilled to have her join our team.”