The phrase “self-care” has now been reduced to parody from overuse. This 10 a.m. milkshake is self-care because I’m bored. Skipping my friend’s wedding is self-care, because one of the groomsmen is annoying. When tennis phenom Naomi Osaka announced back in May, however, that she would not be doing press for this summer’s French Open (as self-care for her mental health), it was not a frivolous or entitled indulgence. It was one of the world’s top athletes experimenting with setting boundaries. The subsequent uproar around her decision led Osaka to bow out of the event altogether, the first time a tennis star of her stature has ever hit the eject button on such a major tournament without being physically injured.
The 23-year-old powerhouse, who is the world’s highest-paid female athlete, soon offered an explanation on Instagram. She is an introvert who gets heavy social anxiety, especially when talking with media, and suffers from depression. Osaka’s sister, Mari, further clarified that Naomi always plays worse on clay courts like those at the French Open, and the press tends to hound her about it every time she arrives. Between these two accounts, it’s pretty clear what happened at the tournament and why. Anyone seeking a more complete explanation, however, need only look to Netflix’s new three-part documentary series, Naomi Osaka—despite the fact that it never actually addresses the 2021 French Open.
Directed by Garrett Bradley, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind last year’s Time, the just-released series follows Osaka from the moment she played against lifelong idol Serena Williams in 2018 and won, through to her embrace of Black Lives Matter activism in late summer 2020. The 2018 U.S. Open is an ideal place to start, because as Osaka would later reveal in that Instagram post this past May, her depression began around the time she won the first of four Grand Slam championship titles. She never utters the word depression in the film, but she doesn’t need to. From the outset of that incredible victory against Williams, earned in a stadium full of vocal fans of her opponent, Osaka is thrust into overnight superstardom.