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Sports

Naomi Osaka leaves talent agency IMG to start her own venture

Four-time Grand Slam champion and agent name their talent agency Evolve

Cross-continental celebrity Naomi Osaka, 24, has ignited conversations on racial inequality and mental health awareness.   © AP

NEW YORK (Financial Times) -- Naomi Osaka, the four-time tennis Grand Slam champion and highest-paid female athlete in the world, said on Wednesday that she and her longtime agent were leaving talent agency IMG to start their own business.

Osaka, 24, and her agent Stuart Duguid, acknowledged in posts on Instagram that they are setting up their own talent shop named Evolve. News of their split from IMG was earlier reported by Sports Business Journal.

Neither Duguid nor IMG immediately responded to requests for comment.

Osaka has become a cross-continental celebrity in her young tennis career, winning two Australian and U.S. Open tournaments apiece while also igniting conversations on racial inequality and mental health awareness.

Together with Duguid, the Japan-born star has effectively translated her popularity among young fans in Asia and around the world into a number of high-profile endorsements, including from Nissan, Nike, Louis Vuitton and others.

In an interview with the Financial Times in 2020, Duguid said that Japanese brands, in particular, had been traditionally reluctant to embrace any social or political message, favoring neutrality from stars, but "if anyone can change that tradition, it would be Naomi Osaka."

Over the past year, Osaka has struggled with injury and setbacks on the court, withdrawing from an international tournament in Rome last week because of an Achilles problem. At last summer's Tokyo Olympics, for which she lit the torch at the opening ceremony, Osaka suffered a disappointing loss in the third round.

Osaka and Duguid are not the first big stars to break off from traditional talent agencies.

In 2013, Roger Federer and his longtime agent Tony Godsick founded Team8, their own boutique. In basketball, former Roc Nation agent Rich Kleiman left with star client Kevin Durant, the current Brooklyn Nets player, to set up their own talent, entertainment, and investment vehicle, Thirty-Five Ventures, a few years later.

IMG, the global talent, modeling, and sports agency, was acquired by William Morris in 2014 to form Endeavor, led by the Hollywood super agent Ari Emanuel.

Along with rival companies Creative Artists Agency, United Talent Agency and others, such businesses typically compete to represent top models, athletes and actors in commercial endorsements, media campaigns, and in acting or entertainment opportunities.

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