Naomi Osaka’s self-titled Netflix docuseries portrays an interesting insight into the life of a four-time grand slam champion. Unlike other athlete documentaries, this one isn’t all about the star’s rise to fame and success. While it does follow her journey over the past two years, starting from her win at the 2018 U.S. Open over Serena Williams, its main focus is on the mental state Naomi was in throughout this time of her life.
It brings to light the self-doubt and contemplation an athlete often goes through. “To anyone that would know, they know me for being a tennis player,” she explains in the series. “So what if I’m not a good tennis player?”
Champion athletes are often known for their proud and confident image in the media, however, Naomi Osaka is a look into what goes on beyond the court. Here are some of our key takeaways from the series.
Adopting the mamba mentality
In the second episode of the docuseries, we get an insight into how Osaka dealt with losing her friend and mentor, Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January 2020. Her feelings of grief attributed to her poor performance in the 2020 Fed Cup, where she lost against Spain’s Sorribes Tormo.
When Bryant was alive, he strongly advocated the Black mamba mentality, which focused on honesty, optimism, passion and fearlessness. Osaka and Bryant bonded over their passion for sport. Naomi expresses her feelings after losing games. “I’m feeling like I let him down. I’m supposed to carry on his mentality in tennis, and here I am, I haven’t won the Grand Slam. I’m losing matches because I’m mentally weak and that’s so uncharacteristic of him [Kobe Bryant].”
She goes on to say she wanted to text him during her phase of negativity and self doubt. “I’m just gonna text him again, like ‘How do you deal with this situation?. “But like, then I didn’t text him that ‘cause I didn’t want to feel like a loser and now I’ll never have the chance to talk to him again.”
She starts to put her mental health first
Naomi Osaka has had to deal with the pressures of handling the media and being a public persona from a young age. The docuseries reveals how much of a “worrier” she is, often overthinking about every detail. Learning more about her personal struggles, it is easier to understand her refusal to participate in conferences during the French Open in May 2021. Despite a US$15,000 fine and threats of disqualification, she stood her ground to protect her mental health. She eventually withdrew from both the French Open and Wimbledon championships.
Seeing athletes put their mental health first is admiring, and we haven’t seen it very often. However, this year we saw another prominent athlete, Simone Biles, cite mental health concerns for her withdrawal from the women’s team gymnastics final.
In an Instagram post, Osaka expressed her struggles with depression and anxiety, giving us all an insight into her personal battles.
Showing solidarity for important causes
While Osaka may seem soft-spoken in her interviews, she doesn’t shy away from standing up for her beliefs. At the U.S. Open in 2020, Osaka showed her solidarity against social injustice and racial inequality by wearing a mask with names of victims who had died from police brutality, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“It was a bit frightening to speak up,” Naomi says in the docuseries. “I do feel like it’s been building for a while, and this is what I’m supposed to be doing in this moment.”
The documentary was an interesting look into Osaka’s personal journey, sparking insightful conversations about issues of race, nationalism, modern media and how the pressures of being a top athlete can have on one’s mental wellbeing.
Check the dosuceries, out on Netflix yourself here.