I’ve never really been all that into tennis… or have I? This is the question I found myself asking after uncontrollably taking home the latest edition of tennis-centred Racquet magazine (the front cover is irresistible). More specifically, #17 is their ‘very special issue’ guest edited by 24-year-old tennis luminary, Naomi Osaka.
You see, – yep, we’re getting personal for a moment – when I was a kid, every summer during the school holidays my mam (that’s “mum/mom” in the northeast of England) would watch Wimbledon religiously. Now honestly? This wasn't something I was overly thrilled about. I was much happier outdoors; criss-crossing fields, getting stuck in trees and generally poking around in nature. Every so often though, on particularly hot days, I would hide out from the mid-afternoon sun indoors. And there it was, radiating green and white in the corner of the living room: Wimbledon.
After a little while, I’d succumb to the melodic, rubbery thwack thwack of a tennis ball reverberating out of the speakers of our rotund, second-hand television set. There was a floppy-haired Tim Henman. The Williams sisters. Federer, later. Calls of – Love! Deuce! – and the roar of Pimms-fuelled applause ricocheting against the walls of our terraced council house. Choc ices in the freezer. Sun streaming in through partially-drawn curtains.
This is a collage of memories I’ve held onto but hadn’t unwrapped and tasted in a long while… sitting down with Racquet did that. Such is the magic of a great magazine.
Founded by Caitlin Thompson and David Shaftel as an ode to the “swashbuckling sport of the tennis boom of the 1970s and ’80s”, this New York-born quarterly has consistently served brilliantly vibrant, frame-worthy covers. Subject matter-aside, whenever I've met it on the shelves it’s easily slid into my hands simply because it’s such a beautiful thing; but this was the first time I’ve read it cover-to-cover (and in one sitting at that).
Though tennis is absolutely at its core, Racquet really is wide open. Art, culture and fashion are all very much at home here. I mean, despite the fact I haven’t picked up a racquet in years (though my partner was a minor child wunderkind at the sport) here I am, a little bit in love with a tennis magazine. Perhaps it’s also Naomi Osaka’s guest-spot? Partially, I’m sure. Far from being a profile of the highest-paid female athlete in the world right now, this is a ‘different lens to see [her] orbit from’, as she notes in her editor's letter. Through Racquet, Osaka reveals herself from myriad vantage points.
During the 2020 US Open Osaka wore several face masks bearing the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile and Elijah McClain in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and in protest against continued police brutality. Illustration by Agnes Ricart.
The ‘orbit’ sentiment also perfectly sums up the experience of thumbing through their seventeenth issue. The editorial begins by exploring how Osaka understands her own Japanese, Haitian and adopted-American roots. The next, vividly illustrated piece, documents her Black Lives Matter protest which took place throughout the 2020 US Open (which she went on to win) and agitated crucial conversations about racism throughout her native Japan – and globally.
In later pages, and accompanied by more slick imagery, we meet her sister, former professional tennis player and artist, Mari Osaka. Blood Orange interviews Takashi Murakami. We travel to Japan, Haiti and the US through the magazine’s ever-rich photography. And, toward the end of the 120-page issue, we’re greeted by the vibrant, mind-altering art of Osaka’s personally commissioned cover star, Nigerian-born, Lagos-based mixed-media artist, Dennis Osadebe (below).
Magazines can be powerful vessels – more so when they contain essential, human-centred stories. They have the power to evoke childhood memories; to spur action. Since bringing this issue of Racquet home, my partner has been in touch with a local tennis club to ask about playing there – something she hasn't done since her childhood “heyday”. I've even offered myself up as a (potentially awful) partner on the court. And I’ve been reminded that, one day, I hope to take my aforementioned devoted parent to Wimbledon for real.
Until then, I’m pleasantly surprised to have (re)discovered a new favourite magazine. I'm still no tennis aficionado, but it turns out the sport means something to me in a way I’d never really acknowledged before now. Tennis is Racquet’s raison d’être but it’s off court, through our interwoven personal histories and collective experiences that we truly come together.
Publisher and founder: Caitlin Thompson
Editor and founder: David Shaftel
Guest editor: Naomi Osaka
Art director: Larry Buchanan