Naomi Osaka Surpasses Serena Williams, Is Now The Highest-Paid Female Athlete

Kristen Markel

Young tennis star Naomi Osaka, 22, has surpassed veteran athlete Serena Williams, 38, as the highest-paid female athlete, Forbes reported on Friday. Osaka earned $37.4 million in the past 12 months, compared to Williams' $36 million earnings.

Osaka's profits set a record for the highest earnings of a female athlete in a single year. Maria Sharapova had previously held the record with $29.7 million in revenue in 2015.

Despite this enormous success, Osaka is comparatively new to the tennis scene.

"Osaka is a relatively fresh face with a great back story," David Carter, a sports business professor at USC Marshall School of Business, told Forbes.

The tennis player went professional in 2014, one month before she turned 16. Four years later, Osaka entered the WTA's Top 40, and she won her first major title at Indian Wells two years later. Only months after that, the young star won back-to-back Grand Slams. The tennis player won the 2018 U.S. Open, followed by the Australian Open in 2019. Previous record holder Wiliams has won 23 Grand Slams in her career.

Osaka's earnings came from tournament winnings as well as her many endorsement deals. The tennis star had 15 deals that netted her over $1 million annually, several of which she had equity stakes in.

It wasn't just her sports prowess that assisted Osaka in earning so much. Other factors also helped her along the way.

Significantly, the tennis player is "youthful and bicultural, two attributes that help her resonate with younger, global audiences, and the result is the emergence of a global sports marketing icon," Carter told Forbes.

Osaka was born in Japan and lived there with her Japanese father, Haitian American mother, and sister. Her family moved to the United States when she was three years old. Osaka was the first Asian tennis player ever to be ranked number one in the world.

With the 2020 Olympics, now scheduled to be held in 2021, being held in Tokoyo, Japanese-born Osaka was an excellent choice for brands.

"She is expected to be one of the faces of the Olympics that had triggered unprecedented levels of excitement among the Japanese public," Forbes stated.

The list of highest-earning athletes included only three women, Osaka, Williams, and her sister, Venus Williams, all tennis players. The sport was the only one where both male and female players were compensated equally.

"Men and women have some level of equality in their paychecks, thanks to similarly-sized audiences tuning in to watch tournaments," Forbes reported.

Since 2007, the prize amounts for all major professional tennis tournaments have been the same for both male and female players.