The cash prizes in tennis are nothing to scoff at, with top players often earning up to several million dollars a season from tournaments alone. But as any tennis insider will attest, the real money is found in the endorsements, most of which outweigh any earnings won on the court.

Naomi Osaka, who Forbes ranked as the world's highest paid female athlete of 2020, has been racking up lucrative contracts and deals with the likes of Nike, Louis Vuitton and Shiseido. Not since Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams has a woman in the sport commanded so much attention from brands.

The latest ambassadorship comes by way of Tag Heuer, the luxury Swiss watch label who just signed the 23-year-old as its new brand ambassador. Osaka will wear the brand in all of her tournament matches this year, including the 2021 Olympics. (Watches are a huge deal in tennis circuit, with Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Seiko among the big brands seen on elite players' wrists.)

Aside from her lucrative endorsements, Osaka's other forays into fashion include designing pieces for Adeam's Fall 2020 collection, teaming up with Comme des Garçons for a collaborative Nike Blazer sneaker and collaborating with Scottish accessories brand Strathberry on a range of handbags.

Ahead of the first grand slam of the year at the Australian Open, PAPER caught up with Naomi Osaka for a quick chat about her new ambassadorship, her love of fashion and her goals for 2021.

You describe fashion as a passion second only to tennis. Where did your love for fashion first come from?

My style is something that I've had since I was a kid. When I was little, my sister and I used to draw on our really long road trips. I'm very grateful for all the opportunities I've had and the chance to learn from all the people I've met, they've really inspired me and fueled my creativity over the years.

As an athlete, most fans associate you with sports gear and your on-court style. What role does fashion play in your life outside of tennis?

On and off the court, fashion plays a really big role. To me it's another way to express one's individuality. It's empowering that everyone can dress differently and make real statements based on what they are wearing. That's probably why I like wearing pieces that no one else can have. I love going to boutiques and finding something completely unique and unexpected.

What's the last fashion item you bought?

My last fashion splurge was a new bag from Louis Vuitton.

How would you describe your personal style?

Off the court I like to wear bright colors and add in a little bit of an oversized more relaxed street style look. The black hoodie from my 2020 Nike collection is always a go-to staple.

Your forays in the fashion world have included everything from collaborations with designers to beauty deals. What's significant to you about your Tag Heuer ambassadorship?

Tag Heuer has always been on my radar. I knew that other tennis players wore their watches and partnered with the brand. I also remember during Grand Slams or just in commercials, I would hear the phrase Don't crack under pressure and always thought that was a really powerful motto. For some reason I sometimes chant things in my head while I'm playing, and I do remember a couple matches when I was like "don't crack under pressure". I'm not sure if that was a sign, but it's a really cool full circle moment.

How did you spend your off-season and holidays?

Physically I prepare mostly in the off-season. During these trainings the body is on autopilot, so I don't really dwell on it much. Mentally, it's a bit more challenging. Tennis is full of ups and downs and I feel like I learn from every match.

As you prepare for a new season, other than winning slams and tournaments, what goals did you set for yourself professionally and personally?

I'm someone who grew up playing tennis and wanted to become good enough to play on a global scale and somehow, I did it. But what I've learned over this past year is that I have a platform and a voice and I want to speak about what I've experienced and what I think. If you scroll through my Instagram, you'll see a lot of outfits, pretty pictures or things that just look good, because that's what I love. I'm just someone who wants to learn as much as she can, use her voice and share.

Photos courtesy of Tag Heuer

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