• AFP-JIJI

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Naomi Osaka said it was Serena Williams and Billie Jean King, and also her boyfriend, who influenced her decision to become part-owner of women’s soccer team North Carolina Courage, she revealed Sunday.

Osaka, the reigning U.S. Open champion, announced the investment on Thursday, with the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) club planning to tap into her passion for fashion by consulting the 23-year-old on design decisions for 2021.

Osaka, who is in Melbourne preparing for the Australian Open, said she had noticed others in the world of sports making similar commitments and “I always thought it was really cool.”

“Billie Jean King texts me sometimes, so I was getting inspired from her,” she said of the tennis great who has stakes in several sports teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I remember reading in an article that Serena’s daughter invested in a soccer team, too. I thought that maybe that’s a really good direction to go.

“As for choosing North Carolina, it’s because I visited there a couple times because of my boyfriend’s family, and he was born there.”

Osaka, named by Forbes magazine as the world’s highest paid female athlete in 2020, was the first Asian player to be ranked world No. 1. She burst on the scene by winning the 2018 U.S. Open and followed it up with victory at the 2019 Australian Open ahead of her third Grand Slam title in Flushing Meadows last year.

Osaka is not the first celebrity owner in the NWSL, the third and most successful attempt to launch a top-level U.S. women’s soccer league.

Angel City FC, in Los Angeles, a 2022 NWSL expansion club, has Williams and actresses Eva Longoria, Natalie Portman, Jennifer Garner and Jessica Chastain among its ownership group.

“The biggest thing I’m excited about, I really want to try to train with them,” Osaka said of the Courage.

“I think it’s always really fun to train with different athletes and see what they’re better than me at.

“I feel like definitely I’ll be able to go down there and watch a couple of games.”

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