Naomi Osaka's Biggest Achievement Is Playing Tennis On Her Own Terms
Naomi Osaka’s Biggest Achievement Is Playing Tennis On Her Own Terms

Cometh the tennis season, cometh the incessant chatter around the absence of Naomi Osaka

Cometh the tennis season, cometh the incessant chatter around the absence of Naomi Osaka. The four-time grand slam winner hasn’t played a full game since August last year, and even before that, her presence on the court was quite limited. With Australian Open in near sight, there were growing concerns about the current state of Naomi Osaka the genius athlete, not the person.


Weird assumptions and baseless allegations were made, reports about her whereabouts were written, her commitment to the game was questioned. And all this while Osaka remained silent, until yesterday, when she clarified that she is not playing
because of pregnancy, and she intends to return back to the grind in 2024.

“I know that I have so much to look forward to in the future; one thing I’m looking forward to is for my kid to watch some of my matches and tell someone, ‘That’s my mom,'” wrote Osaka while announcing her pregnancy.

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For, a few days before Osaka’s confirmation, the veteran journalist Peter Bodo wrote how Osaka’s indifference will cost her career and drive away the lucrative sponsorships that made her the highest-paid women athlete in 2022.


Perhaps unintentionally but Bodo hits the nail on the head of this entire chatterbox around a player who has had a fair share of mental health troubles. Osaka is no longer a mere athlete but a walking entity, whose presence shoots up revenue figures.
Organisers want her purely because they see her as a solid business prospect. Fans want it because they crave high-quality tennis, and Osaka, one of the best hard courters going around, promises that better than most of her peers.

In between fans’ cravings and organisers’ selfishness, Osaka the human being remains totally lost. There’s no conversation around her well-being, her mental health, her fitness, and her desires. No one knows what exactly she wants. It doesn’t even matter in elite sports, where sportspersons play nothing more than a gladiatorial role.

Osaka has already relented to the unceasing, uninterrupted toil of the tennis tours, and is now picking her battles carefully. This exactly is the major qualm about Osaka for tennis fans. Prioritising your own well-being rather than playing to the gallery is nothing less than a truly radical act in modern, big-money sports, which demands unwavering faith and commitment from their top practitioners so that the organisers can fill their coffers.

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Once an athlete reaches the summit, which is winning the grand slams in this case, she is expected to grace all the major tournaments and use her new-found fame and influence to draw spectators. Osaka, however, plays by her own rule, a simple yet


disconcerting fact for many tennis fans. She doesn’t let her entire self be defined by her on-court achievements, a ubiquitous tendency among the legends of this sport.

The sweeping, reductive arcs of victory and defeat often reduce other complications to the margin, and athletes often find themselves in a furtive zone where they let their last outcome define their entire existence. I couldn’t nail the easiest overhead smash, I must be the shittiest person on this entire planet.

Osaka, however, seems to have already passed this phase at such a young age, and that is an achievement bigger than any of the majors she has won to date. There are better, more comprehensive metrics to gauge your success than the simplistic concept of winning and losing. She has carved her own definition, and is not afraid to live by it, which also explains the reason behind the intense scrutiny her every action is met with.

“Playing an individual sport can make this tricky, as a loss feels like a personal failure that can only be blamed on yourself,” writes Osaka in one of her columns. “I knew that if I kept up that self-deflating dialogue, nothing I did in life – no win, no loss, none of it –would really matter. I had to learn to change my own definitions of success.”

Though it should also be stated that Osaka is able to choose her battles only because she had spent a considerable period in the upper echelons of tennis. For those lower down the order, this is far from feasible. The only option to rise and make money
playing this sport is to embrace the brutality of its relentless schedule.

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