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Naomi Osaka admits she is still ‘scared’ of Serena Williams because she’s so good

Naomi Osaka covers one of four versions of the new January issue of Vogue magazine, and admits inside that she’s ‘kind of scared’ of tennis icon Serena Williams.

Naomi, 23, famously beat Serena, 39, in the 2018 US Open, but she’s been looking up to her since she was a kid — and still gets nervous when she’s nearby.

‘Honestly, I’m kind of scared of her. Not scared scared but — I’m intimidated, and I get very shy when she’s like 10 feet away from me,’ she said.

Stunning: Naomi Osaka covers one of four versions of the new January issue of Vogue magazine, out this month

Icon: Of Serena Williams, 39, Naomi siad, 'Honestly, I’m kind of scared of her. Not scared scared but — I’m intimidated, and I get very shy when she’s like 10 feet away from me'

Icon: Of Serena Williams, 39, Naomi siad, ‘Honestly, I’m kind of scared of her. Not scared scared but — I’m intimidated, and I get very shy when she’s like 10 feet away from me’

Naomi and Serena have faced off on the court three times, and Naomi has best Serena two out of three.

She won at the March 2018 Miami Open and the September 2018 US Open, though Serena took the win at the August 2019 Canadian Open.

‘There’s a lot of things she’s so much better at. She’s more aggressive. She knows when to go for her shots. Sometimes she hits really big service returns, and I can’t do that at all,’ Naomi said.

Serena’s skill — and Naomi’s awe of her — has made facing off against her even harder.

‘That really affected me at the U.S. Open finals in 2018, but I had worked so hard for that moment, and I felt like if I were to be intimidated or show that I was scared of her, she would capitalize on that,’ she said,

‘When I’m stepping on the court, I have to treat her as a tennis player, not as Serena Williams.’

'There’s a lot of things she’s so much better at. She’s more aggressive. She knows when to go for her shots. Sometimes she hits really big service returns, and I can’t do that,' Naomi said

‘There’s a lot of things she’s so much better at. She’s more aggressive. She knows when to go for her shots. Sometimes she hits really big service returns, and I can’t do that,’ Naomi said

Winner: Naomi, 23, famously beat Serena, 39, in the 2018 US Open, though her victory was marred by some drama with the umpire

Winner: Naomi, 23, famously beat Serena, 39, in the 2018 US Open, though her victory was marred by some drama with the umpire

At 2018’s US Open, Naomi won won 6-2, 6-4, but her victory was overshadowed by drama between Serena and chair umpire Carlos Ramos of Portugal, who called three code violations on Serena.

Serena called the umpire a ‘liar’ and told him, ‘I don’t cheat … You owe me an apology!’

Later, Serena wrote a piece in Harper’s Bazaar, calling out the umpire for sexism and lamenting how it ended up having a negative impact on both her and Naomi.

‘Not only was a game taken from me but a defining, triumphant moment was taken from another player, something she should remember as one of the happiest memories in her long and successful career. My heart broke,’ she wrote.

She also shared a letter she’s written to Naomi, telling her she supported her and was a big fan.

Strong: Naomi also talked about Black Lives Matter protests and speaking out for murdered black people

Strong: Naomi also talked about Black Lives Matter protests and speaking out for murdered black people

Naomi is still clearly a big fan of Serena’s — and now, like her idol, she too has a Vogue cover. 

The young tennis star posed for Annie Leibovitz in a Louis Vuitton dress, and donned a colorblock Nina Ricci dress for another photo inside.

She joins Frances McDormand, another of Vogue’s January cover stars.

In the interview, she also touched on social justice and the protests that sprung up this year in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.  

‘I don’t think it matters if you’re shy or not, or if you’re introverted or extroverted,’ she said. 

‘You’re just there in the moment. When you see it in real life — so many cameras filming everyone, police with guns outside the city hall, the parents of other victims telling their stories — it kind of hits you differently. You’re able to process it on your own terms.’

Making a statement: Naomi wore a 'Trayvon Martin' face mask to the US Open on September 6

Making a statement: Naomi wore a ‘Trayvon Martin’ face mask to the US Open on September 6

Naomi found her own special way to protest the killing of black people by police and in other racist attacks this year, when she wore masks bearing some victims’ names to the US Open.  

‘I was just thinking that I had this opportunity to raise awareness,’ she told Vogue. 

'I know his death wasn’t the first, but for me it was the one that opened my eyes to what was going on,' she said

‘I know his death wasn’t the first, but for me it was the one that opened my eyes to what was going on,’ she said

‘Tennis is watched all around the world, so people who might not know these names can google them and learn their stories. That was a big motivator for me, and I think it helped me win the tournament.

‘I feel like this is something that was building up in me for a while,’ she went on. ‘I watched the Trayvon [Martin] stuff go down. For me that was super-scary. 

‘I travel so much during the year that I don’t always know the news that’s centered in the US. But then when the pandemic hit, there were no distractions. I was forced to look.’

Naomi previously said that Trayvon Martin’s death deeply affected her. 

The 17-year-old high school student was shot and killed by neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman while walking home in Florida in 2012.   Though Trayvon was unarmed and ran away from Zimmerman, who was following him, Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges on grounds of self defense.

‘I remember Trayvon’s death clearly,’ Naomi wrote on Instagram following a September 6 match in which she wore his name on her mask. ‘I remember being a kid and just feeling scared. 

Statement: On September 4, Naomi wore a mask featuring the name Ahmaud Arbery for her Women's Singles third round match against Marta Kostyuk of the Ukraine

Statement: On September 4, Naomi wore a mask featuring the name Ahmaud Arbery for her Women’s Singles third round match against Marta Kostyuk of the Ukraine

'No one can really paint the narrative that he was a bad guy because they had so many stories and so many warmhearted things to say about him,' Naomi said of Elijah McClain

‘No one can really paint the narrative that he was a bad guy because they had so many stories and so many warmhearted things to say about him,’ Naomi said of Elijah McClain

‘I actually didn’t wear hoodies for years cause I wanted to decrease the odds of “looking suspicious.” 

‘I know his death wasn’t the first, but for me it was the one that opened my eyes to what was going on.  

‘I remember watching the events unfold on tv and wondering what was taking so long, why was justice not being served,’ she went on. ‘To see the same things happening over and over still is sad. Things have to change.’ 

On September 4, Naomi wore a mask featuring the name Ahmaud Arbery for her Women’s Singles third round match against Marta Kostyuk of the Ukraine.

Ahmaud, 25, was shot and killed while jogging in Georgia. He had been followed by Travis McMichael, Travis’ father Gregory, and William Bryan, who pursued him in two vehicles.

Solidarity: Naomi's first mask in the series, which she wore for her match against Misaki Doi of Japan on August 31, paid homage to Breonna Taylor

Solidarity: Naomi’s first mask in the series, which she wore for her match against Misaki Doi of Japan on August 31, paid homage to Breonna Taylor 

Taking a stand: In August, Naomi sat out of a semifinals match in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake. She released this satement

Taking a stand: In August, Naomi sat out of a semifinals match in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake. She released this satement

The McMichaels have been charged with felony murder, aggravated assault, and other crimes and are awaiting trial.

‘I would like everyone to know that it was completely avoidable — this did not have to happen,’ she said of Arbery’s death. ‘None of these deaths had to happen. I just want everyone to know the names.’ 

Other masks featured the names of Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain, among others.

In August, Naomi sat out of a semifinals match in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake.

‘Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And as a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis,’ she wrote on Twitter.

‘I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.

‘Watching the continued genocide of black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach.

‘I’m exhausted of having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I’m extremely tired of having this same conversation over and over again. When will it ever be enough?’ 




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