Tennis is one of the few sports in the world with equal prize money between the sexes (at least at Grand Slam level), which is part of the reason the sport has dominated Forbes’ list of the highest paid female athletes over the past few years. But the list has also grown more diverse in terms of disciplines over the past tow years compared to the 2020 edition when nine out of the ten highest-earning female athletes were tennis players.
Naomi Osaka was crowned the highest-paid female athlete in 2021 and 2022 by Forbes, with only Serena Williams coming even remotely close to the Japanese tennis player's earnings. While having made a relatively modest $1.1 million on the tennis court last year, Osaka’s off-the-field earnings stood at $50 million thanks to lucrative deals with brands such as Nike, Louis Vuitton and Tag Heuer.
The discrepancy between on-court performance and off-the-field earnings was even starker in Serena Williams’ case, who only earned $100,000 last year before announcing her retirement in August. She still made $41 million from endorsement deals (e.g. Nike, Gatorade and DirecTV) and numerous other investments.
As the following chart illustrates, Osaka and Williams are in a different league financially compared to their fellow female athletes. U.S.-born Chinese freestyle skier Eileen Wu is a new addition to the top 10 in rank 3, making combined earnings of $20.1 million, mostly from deals with U.S. companies like Red Bull, Therabody and Louis Vuitton as well as Chinese brands like Mengniu Dairy and JD.com. None of the highest-paid female athletes made the top 10 in Forbes' highest paid athlete list, with Osaka ranked 19th and Williams 31st. Even more notable is the fact that no other female athlete even made the top 50 of the overall list, highlighting the wide gap persisting in terms of athlete pay.