• KYODO, REUTERS

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Naomi Osaka was recognized for her success on the tennis court and her social activism off it Thursday, when she was named winner of Laureus’ 2021 Sportswoman of the Year Award, becoming the first Japanese to win one of the annual ceremony’s top honors.

The awards have been given out annually since 2000, when golfer Tiger Woods and American sprinter Marion Jones won the top men’s and women’s honors.

“I’ve watched so many of my role models win this award, so it definitely means a lot now to be holding it,” Osaka said in an acceptance speech broadcast at the event, which was held digitally. “I am so happy to receive it. It really means a lot to me.”

Fellow tennis star Rafael Nadal was named the 2021 Sportsman of the Year.

In this past year, the 23-year-old Osaka won both the U.S. and Australian Open titles for the second time, while using her platform to speak out for the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality in the United States.

“I think it is important to use my voice, because for me, I feel like I often hold back a lot and worry about what people think of me, but you know if you have a platform it is very important you use it,” Osaka said.

“Looking ahead, my main hopes for the future would be just to have helped or impacted as many people as I could and, hopefully, be a better person.”

In 2019, Osaka won the Laureus Breakthrough of the Year Award, becoming the first Japanese to win any of the organization’s honors. She was also nominated for the sportswoman award in 2020.

Nadal picked up his fourth Laureus honor, having previously won the top award in addition to wins in the breakthrough and comeback categories.

“The rest of the sportsmen probably deserve the trophy the same as me, but this was the year for me and I can’t be happier,” the 34-year-old Nadal said.

“Winning the French Open and equaling the 20th Grand Slam of Roger Federer has been an unforgettable moment.

“It means a lot to equal my great rival, but at the same time, my great friend. It’s something very special after all the history we have had together on and off court.”

Bayern Munich, which won last season’s Champions League, was named the Team of the Year.

Kento Momota, the world’s top-ranked men’s badminton player, was nominated for the World Comeback of the Year Award but did not win.

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