Naomi Osaka has been open about her mental health battles. The four-time Grand Slam champion has courageously dealt with anxiety and depression with the whole world watching her every move. Recently, at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Osaka was brought to tears during her second round match against Veronika Kudermetova when a heckler yelled, “Naomi, you suck.” Yes, heckling is a part of sports, but tennis isn’t known for the rowdy atmosphere of football or basketball. There are quiet moments during play where yelling is frowned upon. Considering how public Naomi’s issues have been, it feels like she was targeted specifically for this outcome. Osaka asked for the spectator to be removed, but she was denied. She ended up losing to Kudermetova.
According to People, at a post match press conference following a first round win against Astra Sharma at the Miami Open, Osaka was asked how she prepared to return to the court after the incident and she revealed that she’s been seeing a therapist. Naomi said that it was her sister who encouraged her to seek professional help.
“My sister kind of seemed very concerned for me. I feel like I’ve been trying a lot of different things because I tend to internalize things, and I also want to do everything by myself,” she said. “Wim [Fissette, Osaka’s coach] kind of put it in a really good way. He was like, ‘You hire a coach for tennis, for fitness. The mind is such a big thing. If you can get a professional to help you out .5 percent, that alone is worth it.’”
Osaka withdrew from the 2021 French Open due to anxiety and depression, then skipped Wimbledon in order to take some “personal time.” She returned to competition at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, making a splash by lighting the Olympic flame. Since the Olympics, she has competed on the WTA tour sporadically. However, Indian Wells was so difficult for Naomi because it was the first time she had been specifically heckled in that way.
“I think for me the situation in Indian Wells…I realize I’ve never been heckled. I’ve been booed, but not like a direct yell-out kind of thing,” she said. “It kind of took me out of my element. I feel like I’m prepared for it now. I was kind of bracing myself before the match to just like know that’s a thing that could happen now. Yeah, I think I just needed to change my mindset a little.”
In recent years we’ve seen athletes get more comfortable with being open about their mental health. For a high-profile, successful Black woman like Naomi to speak so publicly about seeing a therapist and stepping away from her sport to take care of herself is inspiring. The more we normalize getting help, the easier it becomes for the rest of our community.
“I finally started talking to a therapist after Indian Wells,” Osaka said. “It only took like a year after French Open. She kind of like told me strategies and stuff. I realize how helpful it is. I’m glad that I have people around me that told me to go in that direction. I was basically just remembering all the things that she told me to do, just to take deep breaths and reset myself when I need to.”
Naomi Osaka is currently playing in the Miami Open, which is airing on the Tennis Channel.