Naomi Osaka’s Recent Comments on Mental Health Highlight Her Experience With Debilitating Shyness

Naomi Osaka’s mental health saga already dominated the French Open in May 2021. After the four-time Grand Slam winner dropped out of Wimbledon, too, it’s further shining a light on an important issue. Osaka has been candid about her everyday experience with her mental health since she burst onto the scene. Now, something she said about her inherent shyness is further demonstrating why she struggles sometimes. 

Naomi Osaka’s rise in the tennis world

Osaka first made headlines in major publications like The New York Times after her dominant performance at Indian Wells leading up to her iconic win over idol Serena Williams at the 2018 U.S. Open. Osaka was a teenager who was still figuring out what life was like as a professional athlete. After winning the Indian Wells Open, her humility and shyness showed as she struggled to find words post-victory. 

It was made only more awkward after beating Williams in an awkward final where the line judges became the story of her first Grand Slam win. With Williams on her side, Osaka listened to the crowd boo the outcome, although Williams made sure that they also paid respects to Osaka. Now a four-time champion, Osaka has had time to find her voice, from her outspoken activism to her willingness to stand her ground.

Looking back at early wins, such as this WTA profile about her 2018 performance at Beijing, shows 2021 audiences how the prodigy has changed since her early days. 

The shy superstar

Osaka opened up with CNN in 2020 about her attempts to combat her inherent shyness. Citing a desire to not step on toes or seem brash, she spoke about how shyness was not always a sign of weakness. Seeing how she was still portrayed, 2020 was a time of realization for the up-and-coming superstar.

“I’m done being shy. It’s really a waste of my time,” she tweeted in May of 2020. “I could’ve shared so many ideas by now, I could’ve had convos with so many different people. All the things I could’ve learned but no I’m over here actually putting my own limiter on myself.”

The work doesn’t just involve her off-the-court work. Osaka also spent the last few years working on how her mental health affected her mid-match. From falling into mental traps and causing unforced errors to imposter syndrome kicking in on the biggest stage, Osaka had to learn what this all meant.

She started listening to Jay-Z and Beyoncé with the hope that they would speak to her situation. Before long, she was unafraid to speak up when she knew she was right. This also helped her look inside and see exactly what caused her to act the way she does. 

Osaka elaborated on this in an interview with CNN: “There’s a lot of times where I see myself in situations where I could have put my input in, but instead I’ve held my tongue, and things kept moving in a way that I didn’t really enjoy. I feel like if I asserted myself, I would have gotten the opportunity to see what would have happened.”  

Osaka learns how to cope

Naomi Osaka of Japan reacts to winning a point at the 2021 French Open
Tennis star Naomi Osaka at the 2021 French Open | Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Early on in her career, but far enough to look back at her humble beginnings, Osaka learned how to appreciate her meteoric rise to superstardom. She cherishes these moments in the spotlight rather than letting them dictate her mental health. However, as we’ve seen in recent months, it’s still an ongoing process.    Furthermore, the tennis break in 2020 let her set her mind toward mental well-being.  

“I will have more of a feeling of gratitude because you never know when something like this will happen again, and I miss tennis a lot,” she told CNN. “I feel like I want to take this time to learn something new or to improve because I’m pretty sure I won’t have this much free time ever again.”  

Now back in tennis, it’s clear that Osaka isn’t going to let the end of the pandemic let her go back into old habits. From speaking up about the tennis media in French Open and how they hurt her mental health to the recent Wimbledon withdrawal, Osaka is taking things into her own hands. Now, she’s ready to get back on the court when the WTA, media, and fans respect her wishes and let her cope the way she best sees fit. 

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