Naomi Osaka felt the support of late NBA legend Kobe Bryant while competing to win this year’s U.S. Open.
On Saturday, while celebrating her victory over Victoria Azarenka to win the 2020 U.S. Open Women’s Singles final, the 22-year-old tennis star shared a photo of herself holding her trophy while wearing Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers jersey.
“I wore this jersey every day after my matches. I truly think it gave me strength. Always 💛💜,” she captioned the post.
After her match, Osaka told reporters it meant a lot to know that Bryant believed in her. “I just want to be the type of person that he thought I was going to be. He thought I was going to be great, so hopefully, I will be great in the future,” she said.
Last month, Osaka opened up to WSJ. Magazine about her strong bond with the basketball legend before his death on Jan. 26 in a tragic helicopter crash that also killed his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
Osaka — who met Bryant in June 2019 — recalled how he became her mentor in the sports world.
“There would be some really tough losses,” she said. “I didn’t even know he was paying attention, but he would text me positive things and tell me to learn from it. For me, it was definitely helpful.”
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After news surfaced of the Jan. 26 helicopter crash that killed Bryant, Osaka shared an emotional letter she penned in honor of him.
“Hey … I don’t really know what to do so I’m writing you this letter,” she wrote. “Thank you for being you. Thank you for inspiring people everywhere, you have no idea how many hearts you’ve touched. Thank you for being so humble and not acting as big as you are.”
“Thank you for caring and checking up on me after my hard losses,” Osaka continued. “Thank you for randomly texting me ‘You ok?’, cause you know how f—-d up my head is sometimes. Thank you for teaching me so much in the short time I’ve been lucky enough to have known you.”
“Thank you for existing,” she continued. “You will forever be my big bro/mentor/inspiration. Love you.”
On Saturday, Osaka won her third major title, having also won the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open.
Though she struggled in the first set with Azarenka, 31, winning 6-1, the Japanese tennis star, who played with a left hamstring injury, took the second set 6-3. In the end, Osaka won the third set 6-3.
Osaka shared a series of photos after her win on Sunday, captioning them “this is crazy.” She later added another tweet thanking her ancestors.
“I would like to thank my ancestors because everytime I remember their blood runs through my veins I am reminded that I cannot lose,” she said.
Osaka made it to the finals after defeating American tennis player Jennifer Brady (7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-3) while Serena Williams fell to Azarenka at Flushing Meadows. Azarenka defeated the 23-time Grand Slam champion in a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 rally.
In addition to wearing Kobe Bryant’s jersey, Osaka made headlines since the start of the 2020 tournament for wearing face masks with the names of victims of racial injustice to her matches, including Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, George Floyd and Philando Castile.