Naomi Osaka says happiness is now her main life goal rather than winning tennis matches.
Osaka has had a difficult and well-documented mental health journey in recent years, announcing she was taking a break from the game after the US Open last summer, being heckled at Indian Wells on her return this spring, and recently revealing her use of a therapist.
All this seems to have changed her outlook, and she hopes that speaking out – not just on her own situation, but also that of other causes such as Black Lives Matter – has made it easier for others to do the same.
That meant Osaka getting into hot water with tennis authorities for her wish to miss press conferences, but she says she took those decisions consciously.
Speaking to Self, Osaka said: “I just didn’t feel like I had to do things for others. I wanted to start listening to myself and doing things that I needed to do to protect my mindset.
“After I opened up about my struggles, I spoke to a lot of athletes that told me they too had quietly been suffering.
“I didn’t expect any of it [the ensuing attention], and to be honest it was a bit strange. For the first time I had press at my house and at my hotel, that had never happened before. It was a strange feeling and I was shocked that people cared that much.
“I guess I am glad it gave others the opportunity to also speak up even if that wasn’t my intention or what I expected.
“It started a conversation that I think we all needed to start having.
“Speaking up on issues that aren’t always easy to talk about is new to me but something I am really glad I am starting to do. For me it was just important to tell people how I was honestly feeling at the moment.
“My main goal used to be winning. Lately I have tried to ask myself questions like, ‘Will this make you happy?’
“I have seen therapists in the past but not consistently until now. I’m super happy that I found the right person who really understands me and has been incredibly helpful. It’s kind of a scary first step to take but I think it can be helpful to everyone in some shape or form and especially so to a large section of people. It doesn’t mean you are broken.
“At this stage in my life I feel very content in my mental health journey. I feel comfortable in who I am and where I have come from.
“There have been ups and downs and I wouldn’t change a thing, which really helps to give me inner peace.”
Osaka revealed her own inspiration has been Venus and Serena Williams, who have fought for diversity and opportunity during their careers, and whose biopic film ‘King Richard’ she recently watched.
“At the end I was crying,” she said.
“The Williams sisters were such trailblazers and tackled so many issues head on. As a black female athlete, I credit them for breaking down barriers for me.”
There was also a warning for the rest of the women’s tour, as she feels she has found her enjoyment on court again, most notably in her run to the Miami Masters final.
She said: “I really had a blast on court for the first time in a while.
“I have a new perspective and I’m so appreciative that I have this career and platform. I’m also really energised and motivated.”