Naomi Osaka on protecting her mindset, finding inner peace and the trailblazing Williams sisters

Naomi Osaka arrives on court

It has not been an easy journey, but Naomi Osaka believes she is in a better space after opening up about her mental health struggles and the Japanese tennis star is happy that her decision has given others an opportunity to speak up.

Osaka’s decision to skip press conferences at last year’s French Open in order to protect her mental health caused a stir and she later withdrew from the tournament after the powers that be threatened to throw her out.

The four-time Grand Slam champion then revealed that she has been struggling depression and anxiety for several years and opted to skip Wimbledon. After returning for Tokyo Olympics and US Open, she called an early end to the season in order to recharge mentally and physically.

Osaka has played regularly on the WTA Tour this year and although results have not gone her way in terms of winning titles, the 24-year-old feels she is doing better.

In an interview with Self, the tennis star about her decision to go public about her mental struggles and how many famous athletes reached out to her.

“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,” she revealed.

“After I opened up about my struggles, I spoke to a lot of athletes that told me they too had quietly been suffering.”

She added: “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.”

The journey is far from over as Osaka broke down after being heckled at the Indian Wells Open in March and she is now seeing a therapist regularly, but for her winning is no longer her top priority.

“My main goal used to be winning. Lately I have tried to ask myself questions like, ‘Will this make you happy?’,” she asked.

Osaka continued: “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.”

The former world No 1 has never been shy to express her admiration for tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams as she believes the American sisters paved the way for other black female athletes.

She recently watched King Richard, the biopic about the Williams sisters’ father Richard who coached his daughters, and admitted: “At the end I was crying.

“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.”