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Naomi Osaka’s much-anticipated Netflix documentary series, called “Naomi Osaka,” is finally here.
The series, split into three episodes, offers a very intimate glimpse into the mind of the four-time Grand Slam champion, allowing viewers to witness how rapidly her life turned around with overnight fame and success since winning the 2018 U.S. Open final against her own idol Serena Williams.
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Osaka, with her shy and unassuming demeanor, narrates each episode with her thoughts during the more major milestones of her career and personal life. Fans gain a better understanding of her Japanese-Haitian upbringing by her parents Tamaki Osaka and Leonard Francois, how the death of one of her biggest role models in sports affected her and how she diverted from the given blueprint of the average tennis player when it came to activism.
The documentary also delves into the amount of pressure that weighs on Osaka with each match she plays. This year, the tennis champion took some steps to improve her mental health.
In May, Osaka announced she would not be participating in any mandatory press conferences at the French Open. She was fined $15,000 for not speaking to the media after winning her first match and withdrew from the tournament the following day due to mental health issues. Ahead of the Wimbledon Championships, Osaka’s agent declared she would not be partaking in the tournament. Osaka, however, will still represent Japan at the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo.
Here, WWD looks at five of the biggest moments that came from Osaka’s Netflix docuseries. Read on for more.
1. Naomi Osaka Didn’t Feel She Was a Good Tennis Player as a Child, But Went Pro for Her Mom
Though it may be difficult to tell now, as a child, Osaka claimed she “wasn’t really good” at tennis. She and her older sister, Mari, would play on the public courts every day, rallying with each other. According to Osaka, they would play for at least eight hours each time.
Both her mother and father “had a dream of having kids that played tennis.” Despite never having played the sport, her father took inspiration from Richard Williams and his coaching of his two daughters, Venus and Serena Williams. Though Osaka felt like she wasn’t up to par, her biggest motivator to become better and pursue professional tennis was her mother.
“All I was thinking was, I want my mom to be happy, I want her to stop working,” Osaka said, reflecting on entering the local tennis tournaments as a child. “She would work overtime, she would sleep in her car sometimes. And for me, that was the whole point of playing tennis. It was honestly become a champion or probably be broke.”
2. Kobe Bryant’s Death Took an Emotional Toll on Naomi Osaka
The late basketball legend was a role model for many in sports, including Osaka, who looked up to Bryant, dubbed “The Black Mamba,” and his committed champion mentality. When the former Lakers star died in a tragic helicopter crash in January 2020, along with his daughter Gianna and seven others, it greatly affected Osaka.
In a video she recorded shortly after the news, she showed the camera her phone background, which was a photo of herself and Bryant, and discussed how much he impacted her.
“It’s so amazing how one person can touch the hearts of so many people. When I talked to him, I felt so similar to him… the way he would describe how he would do things to get under his opponents’ skin or whatever. I was like, ‘That’s literally what I do,’” Osaka said in the video. “So I’m feeling like I let him down. I’m supposed to carry on his mentality in tennis and here I am like… I haven’t won a Grand Slam. I’m losing matches because I’m mentally weak, and he’s… that’s so uncharacteristic of him.”
Osaka then brings up the text she was thinking about sending Bryant, seeking advice on how to not feel the way that she did. “We’re having all these talks and I’m not even doing what we’re talking about. So it’s like I’m just gonna text him again, like, ‘How do you heal with this situation?’” she said. “And then I didn’t text him that ’cause I didn’t wanna feel like a loser, and now I’ll never have the chance to talk to him again. I don’t know, like wow.”
The following month, Osaka played in the 2020 Fed Cup where she lost two straight sets to Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo. Her coach, Wim Fissette, explained in the documentary that she “wasn’t there in spirit or mentally,” citing the grief from Bryant’s death was still affecting her. “The death of Kobe was a real thing that upset her. They were close,” he said.
Later that year during the 2020 U.S. Open, Osaka discussed her close relationship with Bryant, who would’ve celebrated his 42nd birthday that month, during an interview. “For me, I just always wish I would do something that he’s proud of, and I felt incredibly lucky to have known Kobe and to speak to him on a personal level,” she said. “So, hopefully, whatever I do, he won’t be mad about and he’d be proud.”
3. Naomi Osaka Wants to Better Represent Those Who are Half-Black, Half-Japanese
Despite her half-Japanese upbringing, Osaka actually wishes she spoke more Japanese. Though she speaks the language to her mom and her sister, she says “they won’t say anything about the way that [she talks] because [she has] broken grammar.”
But her growing popularity has made her rethink her language proficiency. “Now I’m in the spotlight, I’m thinking maybe I’m doing something wrong by not representing the half-Black, half-Japanese kids well,” she said.
The documentary also discusses the difficulties her parents faced as a biracial couple in Japan. The two met when Francois was visiting Hokkaido as a college student from New York.
“No matter what somebody does, as an immigrant in Japan, you never really are full Japanese. So we had our obstacles within our marriage and parental, you know, and how they looked at us,” said Francois, who is originally from Jacmel, Haiti. “In choosing their names and making sure it’s a universal name wherever they go, we wanted people to see who they really are.”
4. Naomi Osaka Received Criticism When She Chose to Represent Japan for Olympics, Giving Up Her U.S. Citizenship
In 2019, Osaka chose to give up her United States citizenship to represent Japan in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. According to Japanese law, those who have dual citizenship that were born after 1985 must choose one citizenship and renounce the other by the time they are 22, which Osaka was days shy of celebrating at the time. Despite spending the majority of her life in the States, Osaka and her sister have always represented Japan.
When news broke that she decided to play for Japan instead of the United States, Osaka claimed she received some criticism from Americans.
“I’ve been playing under the Japan flag since I was 14. It was never even a secret that I’m going to play for Japan for the Olympics,” she said in the docuseries. “So I don’t choose America, and suddenly people are like, ‘Your Black card is revoked.’ And it’s like, African American isn’t the only Black, you know? I don’t know, I feel like … people really don’t know the difference between nationality and race, ‘cause there’s a lot of Black people in Brazil, but they’re Brazilian.”
5. The Murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter Protests Compelled Naomi Osaka to Carve Her Own Path in Activism
Like most athletes, Osaka always felt she needed to stay in her lane when it came to certain things to avoid “any controversy.” Additionally, she says she felt “scared” to express any kind of thoughts that were building up in her head.
After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement became the centerpiece for activism, with thousands of protests occurring for months throughout the United States and the rest of the world. Osaka joined in on the protests, being one of the biggest tennis players in the world to do so.
“I’ve always been following people and sort of following blueprints of people, and now I feel like I didn’t really find or, like, see a lane or a path that I liked, and I was at a standstill,” Osaka said. “And then I found that you have to make your own path.”
That August, Osaka was scheduled to play in the semifinal of the Western & Southern Open, but chose not to compete that day to join other athletes in the NBA, WNBA, MLB, MLS and NHL in protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake. “I felt like I needed to raise my voice and if withdrawing from a tournament would cause the most stir, then it’s something that I would have to do,” she said.
“We were watching the NBA teams do it and the WNBA teams do it. And these were people that were able to talk as a collective, make a decision, have the support of their teammates,” Fissette said. “And she was on an island and did it alone. And no other tennis player was willing to do it. She was the one that took it upon herself and stood up. She stopped the game of tennis for a day, which had never been done in history.”
“It was a bit frightening to speak up. I do feel like it’s been building up for a while, and this is what I’m supposed to be doing in this moment,” Osaka said.
Entering the U.S. Open, Osaka continued her streak of activism by wearing seven face masks emblazoned with the names of Black people who had been murdered: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice and Elijah McClain. She went into the tournament with the intention of wearing one to every round she advanced to, hoping she would eventually wear each one by making it to the final, which she did and won.
When asked about her activism, both her parents fully supported her, thinking the idea of the masks were “brilliant.”
“If some people can’t understand, then probably somebody will have to teach those people,” Tamaki said.
“When it comes to the masks, for me, I mean, it feels like she’s standing up for me. She made that decision on her own, and it’s the right decision,” Francois said in the series. “She’s standing on the right side of history.”
During an interview at the end of her victory against Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka at the final of last year’s U.S. Open, Osaka was asked what her message was by wearing the masks. “‘Well, what was the message that you got?’ was more the question,” she responded. “I feel like the point is to make people start talking.”
All three episodes of “Naomi Osaka” will be available to stream on Netflix starting July 16.
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