Review of the new netflix docuseries
*Spoilers for Naomi Osaka ahead*
The docuseries, titled, “Naomi Osaka,” encompasses her path in both athletics and her personal life. Naomi Osaka is a Japanese tennis player that rose to fame at the budding age of 16. Diving deep into her inner workings, we frankly don’t learn much about how she deals with stardom or her anxieties on and off the court. However, that is the beauty of what this series proclaims. She seems to not have everything figured out yet, and as an audience this message is very relatable. Due to starting her career at an extremely young age, it is rightfully so that she hasn’t necessarily found who she is. We follow her journey to not only how she managed to win 4 Grand Slam titles and be ranked number 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association, but also how she paved her own path and growing legacy rather than follow in another’s.
Since the series was filmed, Osaka has been involved in controversy; concerning a lack of representation for an individual’s mental state in professional athletics. On May 26th, Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open’s press after her loss due to mental health concerns. This choice was not an easy one nor one she knew would be okay with the association but she did it because she knew it was best for her. She faced a fine and large backlash that led to her decision of drawing from both this tournament and the following one. Taking a stand for both her mental health and those that follow. Although the series does not document this because it occurred after the filming, it seems to be a reasonable lead off to where it ended.
It may not be a positive, romanticized story but it shows the raw, not so glamorous side of her life. Essentially, this series shows how Naomi eliminates one of her biggest flaws, being a follower. Rather than replicating the path of her role models, she decides to pave her own. Although titled “Naomi Osaka,” it doesn’t merely cover her. It’s brilliance is due to its incorporation of her external factors. These factors include the doubts she received when growing up, the BLM movement, being shamed for choosing to represent Japan in the 2020 Olympics, and lastly, the death of Kobe Bryant. Although these don’t necessarily have to do with the game itself, it has a tremendous impact on her mental health, how she views the game, and, ultimately, how she performs.
The first episode, “Rise,” shows how it all began. The ‘overnight superstar’ shocked the world with her talent at an incredibly young age. The first tape of a game they show is her first grand slam tournament final win at 20 years old, against Serena Williams, a powerhouse and her childhood idol. Despite her wins and adoration globally, Osaka seemed to not be ready for this kind of attention. When put on a pedestal of fame, it can be forgotten that with the supporters also comes the doubters and for lack of better words, the haters. In addition to this, she already puts so much pressure on herself. This compiled stress showed when getting a look at how she was off the court.
At the time, she described herself as a counterpuncher. This tennis playing style is all about consistency. Essentially, waiting for the opponent to tire out rather than attempting to take a winning shot that could end the game earlier. By the end of the docuseries she considers herself an aggressive baseliner instead. This style is more of a tactical approach and concerns more control and dictation of the game, which shows a lot about who she has become in her recent years in tennis.
Traditionally a solo sport, tennis can also contribute to her loneliness and feeling over pressured. With a team sport, you have your teammates to depend on if something goes wrong, but in an individual sport, the only things you have are your own mindset and a crowd. If not in a proper mental headspace, this can be extremely damaging and lasting to your health.
In the second episode, “champion mentality,” we start to learn the outside challenges that influenced Naomi and made her the person and player she is now. Aiming to find another outlet of creativity, she begins her clothing line. She starts to learn that the losses are something she has to figure out herself and it’s up to you to meet the challenges you face with wisdom and strength. When role model and mentor, Kobe Bryant, tragically died in a helicopter accident in January 2020, Osaka was distraught and it took a serious toll on her performance for matches to come. She believed she was disappointing him with these outcomes and kept getting in her head, resulting in a continuation of losses. It was not until she realized the champion mentality is not how you win but how you react when you don’t. Although she came to this realization, she never fully came to the point of being able to apply it permanently. Even on her birthday, she asked her mom if she should have accomplished more at her age. This scene was especially heartbreaking because on a day you should be celebrating your life so far, she focuses on what she hasn’t done, even admitting that there are more important things than tennis. This episode ends with the question, “What if tennis or the world stopped?”
The last episode shows the way she began to differentiate herself from her opponents by becoming a voice for change and her own brand. Of course with diving into social activism and making decisions for yourself comes reaction. Specifically, the internet was stormed when Osaka announced what country she would represent in the 2020 summer Olympics. Her father is from Haiti whereas her mother is from Japan, where Naomi was born. Honoring her nationality, she decided to represent Japan. After this decision, she started to get a flood of messages disapproving of her decision, such as “your black card is revoked.” This came as a shock for her, but she persisted and continued to use her voice. This instance had her prepared to be a social activist in the BLM movement. It was incredibly inspiring to see Naomi put aside her fear of speaking out in order to fight the racial injustices that were rapidly happening around the world. In addition to speaking out, she also made stances such as not competing in the Western and Southern Open. When she did come back to competing, she wore a mask for each of the 7 people that were killed as a result of police brutality.
Naomi’s recent withdrawal from press and eventual absence from two major tournaments shows the severity of her mental state. It is extremely evident from film aspects such as incorporating her lack of sleep, nonstop travel schedule, and her condition in exclusive interviews that Naomi needed time away. We are wishing nothing but the best for her. With this, we encourage anyone reading this to listen to your body and most importantly, take care of your mental health.
You can watch all three parts of the docuseries currently on Netflix.