The 2018 U.S. Open was a life-changing moment for Naomi Osaka. The then-20-year-old clinched her very first Grand Slam title in a highly publicized battle against 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams. Almost three years after that pivotal moment, Osaka announced that she was choosing her mental health and well-being over the international scrutiny that has overwhelmingly heightened as she tries to do her job — and now we know why.
The three-part Netflix documentary series Naomi Osaka takes a voyeuristic view into the high-octane, non-stop solar system that orbits around Naomi Osaka. The catalyst for the series, directed by Oscar nominee Garrett Bradley, is the moment when Osaka held up her 2018 U.S. Open Grand Slam trophy. From there, Osaka essentially became an overnight sensation — and as her star rose the demands for her time and energy also expanded.
Osaka went on to venture into fashion, attended her first fashion week, and traveled to Japan, the country she represents and plays for. With each new flight and journey overseas, to practices, interviews, and more, Osaka’s fatigued voice can be heard saying, “I just need to take a break.” But the breaks didn’t come — neither in her schedule nor from the scrutiny she faced as an athlete.
What’s abundantly clear in the series, and what Osaka tells us herself, is that tennis is one-person sport. She is the vessel through which an entire team of people put in their hard work, time and energy, in order to ensure she can maintain her champion status. But even Osaka has to wonder herself, what if tennis stopped?
Well, in 2020, Osaka did stop tennis for an entire day, when she opted not to play the semi-final round at the 2020 Western & Southern Open, choosing instead to observe a day of protest in the wake of demonstrations across the country supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and calling for justice for the Black lives that had been lost to police brutality. Whether we recognize it or not, this pivotal moment may have been where Osaka started advocating for herself.
From there, it seemed like Osaka’s world started to operate on her terms instead of the noise from outside pressures. That couldn’t be more clear than when the series ends, acknowledging what we know now: Osaka is choosing to put her mental health first.
As opposed to fully disclosing her ongoing personal struggles with the public, like she was forced to following her withdrawal from the 2021 French Open, Osaka offers us a holistic understanding of the pressures she faces. We forget that this celebrated athlete and human commodity is a person. But when Osaka is holding her phone camera in front of her face and taking a walk at night after a devastating loss at a tournament where she was the reigning champion, we’re reminded: This is a 23-year-old woman. Most young women her age are finishing college at this point, taking their first steps into their adult lives — not defending Grand Slam titles.
But at only 23, Osaka is still a developing every element of who she is — her tennis, her business acumen, her mind and her athleticism. It’s no wonder, then, when she’s finally come into her own that she will set her own boundaries. As much as this docu-series is an act self-reflection, it’s also a moment of self-care, with Osaka preserving the valid reasons why she is honoring her mind by removing her body from the tennis court and press conferences.
You can stream Naomi Osaka on Netflix today.
Before you go, check out the mental health apps we love for giving our brains a little more TLC without breaking the bank: