Within the first episode of the brand new Netflix documentary sequence “Naomi Osaka,” the tennis star is proven leaving her fourth spherical 2019 US Open match, which she misplaced to Belinda Bencic. On her approach out of Arthur Ashe Stadium, the defending champion walks by a plaque quoting Billie Jean King that reads, “Stress is a privilege.”
Osaka doesn’t see it that approach.
The present world No. 2, who lives in California however performs for Japan, withdrew from the French Open in June after failing to fulfill her post-match media obligations, saying it was for her psychological well being. The weird transfer brought about a tidal wave of controversy and commenced a dialog in regards to the struggles confronted by athletes within the highlight. Osaka then skipped out on Wimbledon, too, however will play on this month’s Tokyo Olympics.
The pressures of fame — particularly in a solo sport like tennis — will be overwhelming, she says.
“I believe the quantity of consideration that I get is type of ridiculous,” Osaka, 23, says within the doc, which streams on Netflix beginning Friday. “Nobody prepares you for that, you recognize? It’s actually bizarre typically.”
The sequence follows Osaka within the years after her breakthrough season in 2018, during which she defeated Serena Williams on the US Open to win her first grand slam and have become the No. 1 participant on this planet. The messiness of that remaining (Williams was first docked some extent after which a recreation for code violations, which led to Osaka being cruelly booed by some within the crowd) goes unmentioned within the present — regardless that Osaka stated in her French Open withdrawal assertion that she “suffered lengthy bouts of melancholy” after that match.
As a substitute, we meet a really non-public particular person whose shyness masks an intense deal with victory and success. Throughout her birthday dinner at a teppanyaki restaurant in Japan, Osaka asks her mom, Tamaki, “Do you suppose by the point I used to be 22, I might’ve carried out extra? Or that that is, like, acceptable?”
“It’s greater than acceptable,” her mother quietly replies.
One second viewers will have a look at with new eyes is Osaka’s interview with Ellen DeGeneres shortly after shedding to Bencic. Within the years because it aired, followers have discovered about Osaka’s private difficulties in addition to the TV host’s alleged imply streak. Through the awkward interview, it was proper underneath our noses.
“Who did you play who, uh, beat you? What was her title?,” DeGeneres asks bluntly. “I used to be asking if she will get nervous earlier than matches as a result of that’s lots of people. And I suppose you get used to individuals watching you on a regular basis, however that’s a number of stress — of individuals watching you play, proper?”
“Sure,” replies Osaka with a giggle.
“You’ve actually come out of your shell,” the host mocks.
It’s round this time that Osaka provides clues to her eventual alternative to drag again from future media appearances — and entire tournaments.
“I really want to mentally take a break and, like, sit back,” she says within the doc. “I ought to take into consideration the long run as an alternative of at all times being caught within the current.
“For therefore lengthy I’ve tied profitable to, like, my value as an individual. To anybody that may know me, they know me for being a tennis participant. So what am I if I’m not a superb tennis participant?”
Osaka’s mentor who helped her by means of hurdles in her early profession was the late Kobe Bryant. “Kobe type of provides me actual life recommendation,” she stated at a press convention. “He’s somebody that I type of look as much as as an athlete and likewise as an individual.”
The documentary was being filmed when the basketball nice died in a helicopter crash in January 2020, and Osaka emotionally reacted on a private digicam the crew supplied her with.
“I’m feeling like I let him down,” she says. “Like, I’m supposed to hold on his mentality in tennis, and right here I’m, like, having — what? — I haven’t gained a grand slam [since the 2019 Australian Open]. Like, I’m shedding matches as a result of I’m mentally weak, and… that’s so uncharacteristic of him.”
She provides: “I didn’t need to textual content him that as a result of I didn’t need to really feel like a loser, and now I’ll by no means have the prospect to speak to him once more.”
Osaka’s shedding streak didn’t final for much longer. She gained the 2020 US Open — the primary main match held throughout the pandemic — and as soon as once more brought about a stir within the lead-up. After police shot Jacob Blake, Osaka refused to play her semi-final match within the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati in protest.
“She stopped the sport of tennis for a day,” her coach Wim Fissette says. “Which had by no means been carried out in historical past.”