It’s been quite the year for international tennis star Naomi Osaka. She’s been in the news a lot, but most of it has nothing to do with her play on the court. She competed in the most recent Olympics and in the U.S. Open, but did not get as far as her pedigree would suggest. Osaka was defeated in the third round of the U.S. Open, and was ousted in the third round of Olympic tennis competition as well.
This all came after her decision to skip Wimbledon earlier this summer, where a statement communicated that she wanted to spend more time with friends and family. In March, Osaka withdrew from the French Open over a controversy regarding her responsibility to speak with the media.
“I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media. I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try and engage and give the best answers I can,” Osaka said after her withdrawal from the French Open. Via ESPN.com
Sometimes, with all the attention focused on Osaka, it’s easy to forget that she’s just 23 years old, not much older(if at all) than college athletes we watch. There is clearly a lot on her mind, whether it’s paralyzing stress when facing the media, or re-assessing what she wants to do with her life. She’s one of the best tennis players in the world, but as we’ve seen for certain athletes, that doesn’t always equate to a life of happiness.
Her family immigrated from Japan to New York when she was three years old. According to reports, Osaka and her sister spent hours at the tennis courts in Queens, New York as young children, doing drills with their father.
By most accounts, Osaka recalls those days and nights fondly—spending time with family in a diverse community playing a game she loves. Her story is not unlike the upbringing of many successful athletes, who’ve excelled through the amateur, collegiate and professional ranks due to their hard work and love of the game.
However, Osaka’s singular focus over the course of nearly two decades has been to be the best tennis player she can be. From the time she started being able to recall memories, there was a tennis racket in her hand. She’s not old by any means, but two decades is a long time to devote to anything, let alone starting a discipline shortly after being able to walk, essentially.
While there are many different ways to look at Osaka’s last year, one conclusion athletes in her generation might make is that it is never too late to question whether they are on the right path. There are many stories of athletes who have made it their life’s mission to be a superstar athlete, but end up flaming out. Many athletes also probably share Osaka’s trepidation for speaking to the media. It’s unrealistic to think that every athlete will be able to skip out on their media responsibilities, but perhaps Osaka’s experience will make it easier for others to communicate their hesitations.
After her loss to Layleh Fernandez in the U.S. Open, Osaka made some very revealing comments.
“I feel like for me, recently, like when I win, I don’t feel happy. I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don’t think that’s normal,” Osaka expressed. Via NPR.org
We’ll see if any other high profile college athletes decide to take a similar sabbatical from their sport to find out what they truly want in life.