Naomi Osaka lights Olympic torch to open Games in her native Japan

Naomi Osaka
Posted at 2:06 PM, Jul 23, 2021

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka had the honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Games on Friday.

Osaka, a native of Japan, a four-time major champion and the second-ranked female player in the world, climbed the stairs at Tokyo's Olympic Stadium on Friday evening and lit the cauldron, marking the official start of the Games.

"Undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life," she tweeted following the ceremony. "I have no words to describe the feelings I have right now but I do know I am currently filled with gratefulness and thankfulness love you guys thank you."

Osaka's lighting of the cauldron completed a months-long relay that began in Fukushima in March. According to the Olympics, the torch relay covered cities that account for 98% of Japan's population. In addition, 98% of the country was within an hour's journey of at least one stop on the torch relay.

Osaka has grown into one of the most popular tennis stars in the world. Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated announced that she would appear on the cover its famed Swimsuit Edition cover.

The torch lighting also caps a whirlwind 12 months for Osaka, who claimed back-to-back Grand Slam wins in the 2020 U.S. Open and the 2021 Australian Open. She later pulled out of the French Open after a dispute over the tournament's media availability policy, which she said was a detriment to her mental health. She then withdrew from Wimbledon, citing the need to take personal time.

Osaka will take part in the Olympic tournament, where she'll be seeded second overall.