Opening up on mental health, recharged Naomi Osaka is ready for Tokyo Olympics
Naomi Osaka lifts the pen with a cause for TIME as she talks about the importance of mental health, the need for certain revisions before she makes a comeback at Tokyo.
Featured on the cover of TIME magazine's pre-Olympic issue, 4-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka lifted the pen to voice her thoughts on mental health, the traditional format of press conferences and revealed her excitement to play at the Tokyo Olympics in an essay for the magazine.
The 23-year-old Japanese tennis sensation who shot into overnight fame after a very dramatic US Open 2018 victory against her idol, Serena Williams, had her life catapulted towards excessive media attention soon after. Staying away from the media glare for the past couple of months in order to safe keep her mental health - a concept met with frowns sadly in the money-minting world - Naomi Osaka opened up candidly and mentioned how - It is O.K to not be O.K.
In the moving essay, Naomi Osaka has mentioned how former First Lady, Michelle Obama, 19-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, 28-time Olympic medallist Michael Phelps also came into root and extend their support to her as she has been thrust as the spokesperson for 'athlete mental health' ever since her withdrawal from the French Open 2021.
The need to 'refresh' the traditional format of press conferences
Sparking quite a lot of media controversy with her decision to withdraw from the French Open 2021 owing to mental health concerns, Naomi Osaka's seemingly self-preservatory move caused a lot of uproar. Introverted and shy in general, Naomi Osaka spoke about her insecurities and anxieties when it comes to handling pressers. Having expressed her desire to not attend post-match conferences at the French Open, she was threatened and fined $15,000 by the authorities for not honoring media commitments.
In her essay for TIME's Olympic preview edition, the Japanese star pointed out that, "The first is the press. This was never about the press, but rather the traditional format of the press conference. I'll say it again for those at the back: I love the press; I do not love all press conferences."
Having had to battle bouts of depression ever since her 2018 US Open win, Naomi Osaka struggles to be a media darling like perhaps the Big Three - Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. The pressers after the match can be often gruelling with pointed, often insensitive questions which can possibly project more anxiety on the otherwise unprepared athlete. This kind of prying journalism has been a thumb-rule with every post-match conference and not everybody with every skin can protect themselves from it.
"However, in my opinion (and I want to say that this is just my opinion and not that of every tennis player on tour), the press-conference format itself is out of date and in great need of a refresh. I believe that we can make it better, more interesting and more enjoyable for each side. Less subject vs. object; more peer to peer," Naomi Osaka mentioned.
Advocating the need for mental health and its wellness, Naomi Osaka presented a strong case in her essay as well and suggested, "Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions."
The 23-year-old who sat out the ongoing Wimbledon Championships as well went on to write, "...my No. 1 suggestion would be to allow a small number of "sick days" per year where you are excused from your press commitments without having to disclose your personal reasons." Quite the scathing but much-needed opinions, Naomi Osaka, with one tiny move has managed to rattle at the gates of age-old tradition and pointed out the flaws in the existing structure and the spaces in which it can grow and be better.
Naomi Osaka is recharged and ready for the Tokyo Olympics
Missing from regular tennis action for the last couple of months, Naomi Osaka consciously chose to opt out of the French Open after being threatened to be expelled after her first-round win before she pulled out of the grass court Grand Slam as well. Deciding to skip two Majors, the Japanese star has aimed to make her return at the Tokyo Olympics - and perform a sort of homecoming lap.
Although Naomi Osaka has spent many of her formative years in America, her roots belong in Osaka, Japan and therefore the honour of playing on home turf is extremely special. In what will be her debut Olympics, the hard-hitting Osaka mentioned her excitement to return for the Games and hopefully, even medal here.
"After taking the past few weeks to recharge and spend time with my loved ones, I have had the time to reflect, but also to look forward. I could not be more excited to play in Tokyo. An Olympic Games itself is special, but to have the opportunity to play in front of the Japanese fans is a dream come true. I hope I can make them proud," Naomi Osaka penned for TIME.
With 4-time Olympic gold medallist Serena Williams also giving the Tokyo Olympics a miss and joining the tribe of many others like - Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios, the presence of home girl Naomi Osaka will be a major boost for the Olympics as she aspires for a thunderous return to the beloved courts.