Naomi Osaka returns to Paris more wary and vigilant with her words | Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka returns to Paris more wary and vigilant with her words | Naomi Osaka

In summer 2021, Naomi Osaka took to Instagram for an impromptu live stream simply to briefly reveal her new dog, Butta, to her fans. Within seconds, however, the view counter increased. Tens of thousands of his followers tuned in and the comments rained down furiously.

As she showed off her dog, Osaka continually noted her surprise at the number of people watching such a mundane task. She disconnected shortly after. A fleeting and insignificant moment, but it served to underline what it means to be Naomi Osaka today. The highest paid female athlete in the world. A magnet for masses of attention through the smallest of acts. A person still navigating through it all in real time, making decisions under the watchful gaze of the public.

A few months earlier, last year French Open, Osaka provided another one. On the eve of the tournament’s media day, Osaka released a statement on her social media announcing that she would not be holding press conferences due to their impact on her mental health.

What she may have envisioned as a niche, tennis-specific issue quickly became global news and her plea for help ended with the release of a stern joint statement suggesting she might be suspended for failing to direct the media. After their first round match, Osaka decided to withdraw from the tournament.

A year after her incident, and after taking a break from professional tennis at the end of the season, Osaka is back at Roland Garros and on Thursday she held her pre-tournament press conference. She admitted her return to Roland Garros was a source of consternation.

“I’m not going to lie,” she said Friday. “When I arrived here, I was very worried. Of course, I also didn’t like the way I was handling the situation, but I was afraid that there were people I was offending in a way. one way or another and meeting them. But I think everyone has been really positive, for the most part.

Osaka has given numerous interviews since the start of the season, both in victory and in defeat, but his concerns also spilled over into the press conference, which was not mandatory. It was uneventful, Osaka spoke so openly that during an interaction with the Japanese media, she had to pause after almost revealing her game plan for her first round match against Amanda Anisimova. She explained that she used to be more carefree at press conferences, but now she considers every word she says.

Naomi Osaka in action in Miami in April, where she reached the final.
Naomi Osaka in action in Miami in April, where she reached the final. Photography: TPN/Getty Images

“I feel like the thing that’s changed is like I was trying to figure out the crowd,” she said. “I feel like I’m a comedian and I try to figure out what’s right and wrong. But, yeah, I think maybe that’s changed for me. Like I’m analyzing in sort of what I can say and what I can’t say.

In the wake of last year’s French Open, athletes spoke more openly about mental health. The biggest story from the Tokyo Olympics last year was Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from the women’s team final at the Olympics after suffering twisties, and as she explained her reasons she cited Osaka as a source of inspiration.

Osaka, meanwhile, spoke of her determination to find joy in her game and her profession. After being heckled in Indian Wells and unable to pull herself together afterwards, she finally put aside her tendency to handle all her problems on her own. She hired a therapist for the first time in her career, who provided her with breathing techniques and helped her see things from a different perspective. A month ago, it announced a partnership with Modern Health, a mental wellness platform that is also a WTA partner.

“I think for me where I am right now, I wouldn’t want to say it’s like it hasn’t left my mind,” she said. “Of course, I’m still thinking about it, and I’m also preparing in case, like I go out there and a fan says something like Indian Wells,” she said. Then she stopped. “Yeah, for the most part I think I’m fine.”

In the meantime, his career continues. Osaka recently announced her separation from IMG, the main management company, in favor of becoming the first female athlete to start her own agency, called Evolve. On the court, her form has been turbulent, losing her temper after being heckled in Indian Wells in March, then responding by reaching the final at the Miami Open a few weeks later. She was determined to play during the clay-court season, but was instead marred by an achilles injury which she is still nursing.

“There’s no way I’m not playing this tournament, so of course you have to manage things, but at the same time I’m going to take some painkillers. That’s how it is.”

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