The tennis career of Naomi Osaka, one of the biggest sports celebrities in the world, has taken on certain familiar characteristics during the past 16 months.
Her achievements have been limited on the court because of a series of self-imposed layoffs to manage her struggles with mental health, motivation challenges and the occasional physical ailment, but she has enjoyed wild success off the court, solidifying her status as one of the world’s highest-paid athletes and by far the highest-paid female athlete.
As she sits out the Italian Open to nurse an Achilles’ injury and prepare for the year’s second Grand Slam event, the French Open, set for later this month, Osaka announced that she would be starting a representation agency to take further control of her mounting business portfolio. Osaka and her longtime agent, Stuart Duguid, have left IMG, the sports and entertainment conglomerate, to begin Evolve, which will manage Osaka’s business interests and potentially those of other clients the agency may sign.
News of Osaka’s decision to start Evolve was first reported by Sportico.
A four-time Grand Slam singles champion, Osaka, 24, earned roughly $60 million last year, according to Forbes, with an estimated $55 million coming from more than a dozen corporate sponsors. She was tied for 12th on the Forbes list of top-earning athletes with Tiger Woods. Conor McGregor, the mixed martial artist, held the top spot on the list, earning $180 million.
In an interview Wednesday, Duguid said Osaka’s main priority remained winning tennis matches and tournaments. He said her typical day involves training and treatments with her physiotherapist in the morning followed by lunch, but once that is over, she almost always wants to engage in her cultural or business interests.
“She’s not someone who likes to play video games and binge Netflix all day,” said Duguid, who has worked closely with Osaka since she was a teenager.
Osaka’s ranking has tumbled in the past year and a half, largely because she has played so little. She was ranked second in the world at the beginning of 2021, but dropped to 85th this year. She made the finals of the Miami Open in April, and is up to 38th, and she hopes to climb back into the top 10 by the end of the year.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be No. 1 again,” she said at the tournament in Miami.
A spokesman for IMG declined to comment.
Losing a star of Osaka’s magnitude is a significant loss for the company, though it will most likely continue to earn …….