US Open (tennis)

Naomi Osaka catches Michael B. Jordan’s attention as Ellen DeGeneres plays matchmaker for US Open champion

The 20-year-old gets sweet message from Black Panther star Michael B. Jordan after some teasing from US talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, before flying to Japan to tie up big-money Nissan deal

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 11:44am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 September, 2018, 10:47am

Life is coming fast at Naomi Osaka after her stunning US Open triumph, and the 20-year-old has been doing the rounds on the US talk show circuit as she adjusts to her new-found fame and fortune.

But with that US$3.8 million prize money comes some caveats – including having to spill your celebrity crush to Ellen DeGeneres.

Osaka, who beat Serena Williams in a controversial final last weekend to become the first Japanese grand slam champion, admitted on The Ellen Show on Wednesday – after some teasing and pressing by the host – that she was quite taken with “the villain from Black Panther”.

Of course, Osaka was talking about Michael B. Jordan, and DeGeneres handily had the 31-year-old American actor in her contacts on her phone.

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As Osaka cringed and pleaded with DeGeneres to stop, the comedian began texting Jordan – who played Erik Killmonger in the hit Marvel film – about Osaka.

Osaka was clearly left feeling sheepish by the incident, responding to DeGeneres’ video post of their exchange on Twitter with a tweet of her own saying, “OK, it’s time for me to leave this planet. Embarrassment level has reached critical stage #liftoff”, along with three rocket ship emojis for good measure.

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But sure enough, she soon got a response from Creed star Jordan, who sent DeGeneres a video congratulating Osaka on her success in New York.

“I wanted to send my love and support and just say congratulations, it’s a big moment for you,” Jordan said. “The way you carried yourself with such humility and grace, it’s really amazing to see.

“You’re setting an amazing example for the little boys and girls that are looking up to you. So continue to work hard.

“A lot of times you’re on this journey, and a lot people don’t see the process, they only see the end results. Just know all the hard work, the blood, sweat and tears you’ve put into your sport, people are finally being able to see.

“That’s a big thing to be proud of. ... Keep being great, everybody’s watching now. Me too.”

It will surely be another surreal moment for the formerly unheralded Osaka, who is of Japanese and Haitian descent and has shot up to world number seven in the latest WTA rankings.

As well as playing matchmaker, DeGeneres also asked her what Williams whispered in her ear during the trophy presentation, when a tearful Osaka looked shaken by the boos from the crowd following Williams’ high-profile spat with umpire Carlos Ramos.

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“She said she was proud of me and that I should know that the crowd wasn’t booing at me,” Osaka said. “At the time, I did ... think that they were booing at me.

“I couldn’t tell what was going on, because it was just so loud in there. It was a little bit stressful. So I was really happy that she said that.”

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A post shared by Naomi Osaka 大坂なおみ (@naomiosakatennis) on Sep 12, 2018 at 1:46pm PDT

Following her appearance on The Ellen Show, where she also posed for a selfie with fellow guests LeBron James and Channing Tatum, Osaka flew to Tokyo Haneda airport to greet her legion of Japanese fans.

Osaka has quickly capitalised on her new-found fame, and was announced on Thursday as the new “brand ambassador” for Japanese car giant Nissan.

After signing a three-year deal with the company, she was mobbed by Japanese media at a press conference at Nissan’s headquarters in Yokohama.

She also made an appearance at a press conference for her main sponsor Nissin, the Japanese ramen and instant noodle company, who had taken out full-page adverts in Japanese newspapers earlier this week to congratulate her.

Born to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, Osaka left Japan aged three to live in the US but resisted the United States Tennis Association’s advances and chose to represent Japan in the Fed Cup.

Following her big-money deal with Nissan, Osaka is expected to land a substantial increase on her four-year deal with sportswear company Adidas – a contract reportedly worth in the low six figures – which is set to expire this year.

“Her brand value for Adidas is in the millions now,” sports marketing consultant Joe Favorito told the New York Post.

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