Being a role model for young girls is a "big responsibility" the tennis champion says, and she "won't take it for granted"

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March 06, 2019 08:00 AM

Even as the No. 1 female tennis player in the world, the first Japanese tennis player to win a Grand Slam and the first Asian to ever hold the top spot in either men’s or women’s tennis, Naomi Osaka epitomizes humility and perseverance — scarcely inflating her achievements and already setting new goals for herself.

“I feel like my career has just started,” Osaka, 21, tells PEOPLE. “I’ve always dreamed about being number one, I’ve pushed myself along the way and of course I have other goals now.”

Those goals? “To win all the majors and continue to be number one,” she shares.

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And though she insists she’s still early into her career, the young athlete has already been honored in a way most never will: with her own Barbie!

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Naomi Osaka's Barbie (second from left) and the other new Sheroes dolls
Mattel

Osaka joins the group of powerful and inspiring women who are already part of Barbie’s “Sheroes” initiative — which also includes gymnast Laurie Hernandez, Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad and model Ashley Graham.

“It’s a really big honor,” she tells PEOPLE. “I’ve played with Barbies when I was a kid, and I think it’s a bit of a surreal experience to have the opportunity to have a Barbie that looks like me.”

Naomi Osaka's Barbie
Barbie

The latest group of global female role models being honored with a doll alongside Osaka includes Grownish actress Yara Shahidi and model Adwoa Aboah.

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Becoming a “Shero” and realizing her place as role model for young female athletes is something that Osaka does not take lightly.

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Quinn Rooney/Getty

“Growing up, I’ve had a lot of role models and I think that’s really important because that’s sort of like a goal that you set,” Osaka explains. “I think having a really good female role model is really good for kids. I feel like it’s a really big responsibility, but in a way, I’m also really honored, and I won’t take it for granted.”

For young girls who love sports, Osaka says having a Barbie doll that represents high achieving female athletes will hopefully be an inspiration to maintain their own goals and dreams when it comes to athletics.

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“In athletics they have this statistic that girls drop out of sports quicker than boys, and for me I feel sad hearing that because of course I’m a professional athlete,” Osaka says. “I hope that girls feel inspired, and I hope they somehow see a lot of possibilities when they look at all the dolls.”

In conjunction with the release of Osaka’s doll, Barbie — which is celebrating its 60thanniversary — plans to donate $1 from any doll sold, up to 250,000, to the Dream Gap Project, an initiative that raises awareness about the limiting factors girls face when trying to accomplish their dreams. And when it comes to those dreams, Osaka wants young girls to know they should never give up, and never let society make them wonder “what if.”

“You wake up every day and you have a dream and you can only try to accomplish that dream,” she says. “For me, I just feel like I like to live without regrets and that’s always been my motto.”

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