Naomi Osaka, the world no. 2 tennis player and a social justice and mental health advocate, lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Games on Friday.
Osaka, the 23-year-old Gram Slam champion who plays for the host nation of Japan, was revealed to be the final torchbearer, lighting the Olympic flame in a memorable end to the dazzling opening ceremony before an eerily empty stadium.
She carried the torch up the pyramid of steps designed to resemble Mount Fuji to kick off the international sporting event, which has been marred by several setbacks and controversies amid a coronavirus surge in Tokyo.
This was the star player's first major public appearance after she took a two-month break for her mental health, speaking openly about suffering from bouts of depression since winning the 2018 US Open.
Osaka first withdrew from the French Open after her decision not to do post-match press conferences prompted controversy. She later pulled out of Wimbledon to take personal time with friends and family, her agent said.
She has since been a vocal advocate for self-care and mental health in professional sports, calling for tennis players' rights to take mental breaks from media scrutiny and for allowing them to take sick days.
In an Instagram post, Osaka wrote that lighting the Olympic flame was "undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life."
"I have no words to describe the feelings I have right now but I do know I am currently filled with gratefulness and thankfulness," she wrote.
Osaka was born in Japan to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother but moved to New York at the age of 3 while continuing to represent her birth country. She had to give up her US citizenship before turning 22 to compete for Japan at the Tokyo Olympics, NBC News reported.
She is set to play her first match of the 2020 Games on Sunday against No. 52-ranked Zheng Saisai of China.