Just watch her hit some balls and there’s no denying it, Naomi Osaka has power. At 24, she has won four Grand Slams (the US and Australian Opens, both twice), and last summer she lit the Olympic cauldron at the Tokyo Games, representing her native Japan.
But for all that superhuman strength, Osaka also made a point of showing just how human she really is. At Wimbledon in 2019, she told an interviewer: “I feel like I’m about to cry.”
And at the 2021 US Open she shared how she struggles with the incredibly public nature of her job, saying at a press conference, “I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match… to take a break from playing for a while. “
Osaka told “Sunday Morning” after she returned from a two-month break, “I know some people are going to think, why did this come on suddenly? But it’s not all of a sudden.”
Correspondent Tracy Smith asked, “This is a simple question, but perhaps not so simple: Do you like tennis?”
“Me? Yeah. I mean, I love tennis,” she replied. “I guess I had to take a small step back just to see the full picture again.”
That “setback” began in 2021 with his decision to drop out of the French Open instead of attending the necessary press conferences.
She explained, “You can’t really see the people you’re talking to. And they’re just asking question after question.”
On social media, Osaka cited her mental health: “I suffered long periods of depression… and I had a really hard time dealing with it.”
Smith asked, “Your decision with the French Open was obviously to protect yourself. But were you trying to say anything else?”
“Of course the goal was to protect me whether I knew it or not,” Osaka said. “I’ve watched athletes struggle for a while. And I vividly remember, like, every time someone says something about the world or politics, they’re told, like, ‘You’re just a sports person, blah blah blah.’ “
“Are you an athlete and not allowed to talk about problems?”
“Yeah. So I kind of felt, ‘Oh, I feel like we shouldn’t be allowed to have feelings, in a way.’ Just, like, go there, perform and then come back. I always think my way of doing things, I want to make life a little easier for the people who come after me.”
It wasn’t the first time the seemingly shy Osaka has found her voice. In fact, she may have made her loudest statement by saying nothing. At the 2020 US Open, she decided to make and wear seven different masks, each with a name – a silent homage to the black victims of racial injustice.
Smith asked, “Did he do what you wanted him to do?”
“For me, the moment of realization was watching a show in Japan about, like, all the names and all the people I had on the masks,” she replied.
Naomi Osaka was born in Osaka, Japan to a Japanese mother, Tamaki, and a Haitian father, Leonard.
The family moved to New York when Naomi was three, and Leonard began teaching tennis to Naomi and her sister, Mari, modeling his training after two other sisters, Venus and Serena Williams. Mari also played professionally for a while, but retired. Naomi stayed with him.
“I came from a mother who basically worked my entire childhood to get me to play tennis,” Osaka told Smith. “My dad, who was with me the whole time. And I knew they were going through a really hard time, you know?
“Tennis is an expensive sport. So just putting two kids into it and just, I think, believing in them so much is something that – I always call my parents crazy. Because that’s definitely a dream. But I think they’ve completed it.” , and I’m where I wanted to be as a kid.”
The dream came true very quickly. At age 20, Osaka won his first Grand Slam,.
And Osaka kept winning. Just three years later, she became the highest-paid female athlete in the world, endorsing everything from sneakers to salads.
When she withdrew from the French Open last year, no sponsors withdrew their support. And other athletes praised her for opening up a much-needed discussion about mental health.
Smith said: “Michael Phelps said – and I’m sure he’s not the only one – that you probably saved a life doing what you did.”
“At the time this happened, I was very sad,” Osaka said. “And honestly, I was a little embarrassed, because I’ve never received, like, media attention like this before. And I really didn’t know how to deal with it.
“I don’t know, I was kind of hiding inside my house for, like, two weeks. But when I went out, like, going to the grocery store or something, there was a woman that came up to me. And she was saying like her son deals with anxiety and stuff and I really helped him a lot.
“And I think it was a moment where I realized, like, ‘Oh… I could have really, like, helped someone.;’ And even though I was a little scared, I was happy with the choice I made.”
And now, she has a new venture: After Osaka learned that people of color who get skin cancer have a higher death rate, she started a sunscreen skin care line called Kinlò. She said, “When I was little, I didn’t put on sunscreen. Because I felt like I didn’t need it, you know? … Growing up, there was always this thing of, like, ‘Your melanin will protect you.'”
Earlier this year, while his business was taking off, Osaka struggled in matches. But at a tournament in Miami in March, she made it to the finals. She told the crowd, “This is one of the most fun times of my life. So I’m really grateful. I want to thank everyone.”
looks like she he does like tennis. But more than that, Naomi Osaka discovered that true success is not always measured with a score.
“I’ve honestly never had a year like this,” she said. “So I’m grateful for that. I think it made me a lot stronger and a lot more grateful, you know? There are so many other things going on in the world right now. And I think that made me at peace with myself.”
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Story produced by Sari Aviv. Editor: Remington Korper.