An Intimate Look at a Champion for a New World
A Quick TV Review
Soft-spoken. Reserved. Deceptively determined and quietly outspoken. A measured portrait of one of tennis' current leading stars is underlined in Naomi Osaka: Playing by Her Own Rules from Netflix.
Osaka is aware of these perception conflicts, but they're all true. While she claims she's "good as the chaser or the follower", and that it's "hard for (her) to be the top person", she's acknowledged a childhood drive to be the "best tennis player in the world".
She also wonders what would happen "if tennis stops", and has an attention to the world outside. She's keen to the public watching her, to representing her background, and to the impact her voice might have.
Most well-known, and the focus of the third episode of the series, is her drive to create conversation on social issues following George Floyd's death and subsequent social justice initiatives.
Osaka's sensitivity predates that, though. An early clip in Naomi Osaka recalls the 2019 U.S. Open third round match against rising U.S. star Coco Gauff, in which Osaka won handily but ensured her opponent had a moment to hear public appreciation, so the 15-year-old Gauff can "walk off the court with her head high". How can someone so young be so aware?
But clues abound. "For so long, I've tied winning to, like, my worth as a person...so, what am I, if not a good tennis player," Osaka is quoted. "I should think about the future rather than always being stuck in the present." She knows "life is full of tests", and feels exposed to them on the court, and in public. She laments a lack of 'real world' college life her contemporaries enjoy to close the series.
Osaka has revealed she was "terrified" of the film's release, but ultimately hoped that the series can help illuminate a level of relatability.
As stated in the series, you "can't really put her in a box". But Osaka is certainly an athletic star for today's age - an elite competitor but introspective and willing to show strength in vulnerability. How can one not root for her? I will be.
She's entering Tokyo 2020 with heavy home-nation expectations to medal, but is dreaming of success.