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 times), and last summer she lit the Olympic cauldron at the Tokyo Games, representing her native Japan.
But despite all that superhuman strength, Osaka has also gone out of her way to show 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 he shared how he struggles with the incredibly public nature of his job, saying in a press conference: “Honestly, I don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match… I think I’m going to take a break.” to play for a while.”
Osaka told “Sunday Morning” after she had just returned from a two-month break, “I know some people are going to think, why did this come up all of a sudden? But it’s not all of a sudden.”
Correspondent Tracy Smith asked: “This is a simple question, but maybe not that simple: Do you like tennis?”
“Me? Yes. I mean, I love tennis,” she replied. “I think I had to take a little step back just to see the whole picture again.”
That “step back” began in 2021, with his decision to withdraw from the French Open rather than attend the required press conferences.
She explained, “You can’t really see the people you’re talking to. And they just ask you question after question.”
On social media, Osaka cited her mental health: “I’ve had long bouts of depression…and it’s been hard for me to deal with.”
Smith asked: “Your decision with the French Open was obviously about protecting yourself. But were you trying to say something else?”
“Of course, the goal was to protect me, whether I knew it or not,” said Osaka. “I’ve been watching athletes wrestle for a while. And I vividly remember, like, every time someone says something about the world or politics, they’re like, ‘You’re just an athlete, blah blah blah.'”
“Are you an athlete and that’s why you’re not allowed to talk about problems?”
“Yeah. So, I felt like, ‘Oh, I feel like we shouldn’t be allowed to have feelings, somehow.’ a little easier for the people behind me.”
It wasn’t the first time the seemingly shy Osaka had found her voice. In fact, she may have made her statement stronger by not saying anything at all. At the 2020 US Open, she decided to make and wear seven different masks, each with a name, a silent tribute to black victims of racial injustice.
Smith asked, “Did it do what you wanted it to do?”
“For me, the moment of realization was watching a show in Japan about every name and every person I had on the masks,” he 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 years old, and Leonard began teaching Naomi and her sister Mari tennis, following the example of two other sisters, Venus and Serena Williams. Mari also played professionally for a while, but retired. Naomi stayed with that.
“I come from a mother who basically worked my entire childhood to help me play tennis,” Osaka told Smith. “My dad, who was with me the whole time. And he knew they were having a really hard time, you know?
“Tennis is an expensive sport. So just to have two kids go through that and, I guess, believe in them that much is something that I always call my parents a little crazy. Because that’s definitely a dream. But I think they completed that, and I’m where I wanted to be as a kid.
The dream came true pretty quickly. At age 20, Osaka won his first Grand Slam,.
And Osaka kept winning. Just three years later, she had become the highest-paid female athlete in the world, endorsing everything from sneakers to salads.
When he pulled out of the French Open last year, not a single sponsor withdrew their support. And her fellow athletes praised her for opening up a much-needed discussion about her 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.”
“The moment that happened, I was very sad,” Osaka said. “And honestly, he was a little embarrassed, because he’d never gotten media attention like that before. And he really didn’t know how to deal with it.”
“I don’t know, I hid inside my house for two weeks. But when I went out to go to the grocery store or something, there was this woman who came up to me. And she was saying how her son deals with anxiety and stuff. and I really helped him a lot.
“And I think that was a moment where I realized, like, ‘Oh… I could have helped somebody.'” And even though he was a little scared, he 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 mortality rate, she started a sunscreen skincare line called Kinlò. She said, “When I was little, I didn’t put on sunscreen at all. Because I felt like I didn’t need it, you know…Growing up, there was always something like, ‘Your melanin will protect you.'”
Earlier this year, while her business was taking off, Osaka struggled in matches. But at a tournament in Miami in March he reached the final. She told the crowd: “This is one of the funniest times of my life. So I’m very grateful. I want to thank you all.”
it seems that she does like tennis But more than that, Naomi Osaka discovered that true success isn’t always measured by a scoreboard.
“Honestly, I’ve never had a year like this,” he said. “So, I’m thankful for that. I think it made me a lot stronger and a lot more grateful, you know? There’s so much else going on in the world right now. And I think it made me feel at peace.” with myself.”
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Story produced by Sari Aviv. Mount: Remington Korper.