Naomi Osaka is many things. She is a woman. She is a mother. She excels in her job. She is Black. She is Asian. And when you are more than what simple people can comprehend, they usually don’t know how to handle you. Here’s how Tennis is learning from its mistakes when it comes to Osaka – but we shouldn’t hold our breath.
Earlier this week, Osaka won her first official match since Fall 2022 with a 6:3, 7:6 (9) victory over Tamara Korpatsch at the Brisbane International. Osaka hadn’t been there much. At the beginning of the week, she had only played one official match since the US Open 2022.
„It’s a big change overnight,“ Osaka said about returning to the sport as a mother. „I love it because it has helped me mature so quickly in a way.“
„Off the court, I perceive people better and appreciate them much more – even my opponents and everything,“ she added. „On the court, it just helps me be strong and stay more in the moment.“
In case you forgot, since she was on the scene, Tennis has done everything to make it clear to Osaka that they don’t want her around.
Other sports figures have taken shots at her, such as Novak Djokovic, who did it because Osaka wanted to pay a fine instead of holding press conferences after games. And certain „media members“ lacked tact when it came to asking questions.
„You’re not exactly thrilled about dealing with us, especially in this format, but you’ve got a lot of outside interests that a media platform serves,“ Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer asked in 2021. „If you say, ‚I don’t care to deal with you guys,'“ Osaka replied, „what does that refer to?“ Osaka pointed out that Daugherty had started a question with „You don’t care“ when speaking to someone who had become one of the faces of mental health in sports at the time. This is the same woman whose introduction on one of the biggest stages of sports was met with boos as people were upset when she defeated Serena Williams at the US Open 2018.
„I just want to tell you, she played well and this is her first Grand Slam,“ Williams said that day, tearfully. „Let’s make this the best moment.“
It’s no surprise that Osaka took a step back from the game in 2021 for her own mental health and took time with her pregnancy and returning to Tennis as a mother.
As Osaka returns to being a full-time player on the circuit – if she ultimately decides to do so – she will once again be playing a sport that is still being led by a Black woman, as Coco Gauff is now the new „It“ girl. The $22.7 million that Gauff earned in 2023 means she was the highest-paid athlete.
Osaka’s run in Australia ended as she lost in the second round with a 3:6, 7:6 (4), 6:4 against Karolina Pliskova. „The week is definitely shorter than I would have liked,“ she said. „I feel like I’m in a pretty good place where I’m at. Even when I played her last time, I feel like I played better today.“ She further stated that she considers the tournament a „personal win“ because just a few weeks ago she „doubted if I could play with everyone.“
„I’ve trained so hard since giving birth that I need to enjoy these moments,“ she explained. „I feel different. I mean, of course I’m sad, but the sadness is like, ‚Oh, I wish I could have done better because I know I spend so much time without her (Shai), so I want it to be worth it somehow.‘ Motherhood has changed Naomi Osaka. I just hope that the sport of Tennis has changed enough for me to stop hating it.