Naomi Osaka series provides insight into the pressure of tennis success

TROUBLED: Naomi Osaka isn't your typical sports documentary and delivers an insight into the tennis star's uncomfortable relationship with fame and pressure.
TROUBLED: Naomi Osaka isn't your typical sports documentary and delivers an insight into the tennis star's uncomfortable relationship with fame and pressure.

WHEN Naomi Osaka first announced her intention to boycott post-match press conferences at Roland Garros in May she naturally drew the ire of the worldwide media and tennis officialdom.

Regardless, the four-time grand slam winner followed through and skipped the media scrum after her first-round victory at the French Open and copped a $15,000 fine. She then withdrew from the tournament, citing mental health reasons, and subsequently missed Wimbledon.

The pile-on was immense. Tennis legend Boris Becker criticised Osaka for her stance and said, "You're 23, you're healthy, you're wealthy, your family is good. Where is the f--king pressure?"

Plenty of journalists also made the point that without the media the $US19.8 million in prize money Osaka has earned would be substantially less, not to mention her lucrative endorsements.

The release of the three-part documentary Naomi Osaka provides much-needed context to how the world No.2 reached the decision to take a mental health break from tennis, which ends on Saturday when she represents Japan at the Tokyo Olympics.

This is far from your typical sports athlete documentary. While there's plenty of triumphs, (the series is book-ended by the 23-year-old's two US Open victories in 2018 and 2020), it's mostly a sombre affair.

Osaka constantly feels the pressure to win, but winning doesn't provide consolation, rather it magnifies the expectations.

The series paints a picture of an introverted, yet driven, home-schooled girl who was born to a Japanese mother and Haitian father.

The story is told through a variety of film crew footage, home videos and Osaka's own smartphone videos to provide a snapshot into her lonely world of tournaments, travel, media and sponsorship commitments and court practice.

Through the majority of it Osaka is sullen, as if she's carrying the weight of the world on her lean shoulders.

One of the most revealing scenes occurs at Osaka's 22nd birthday dinner in a teppanyaki restaurant when she asks her mother, "Did you think by the time I was 22, I would have done more? Or do you think this is acceptable?"

ON COURT: Naomi Osaka playing in the 2020 US Open final where she beat Victoria Azarenka in three sets.

ON COURT: Naomi Osaka playing in the 2020 US Open final where she beat Victoria Azarenka in three sets.

This is coming from a young athlete who had already won the US and Australian Open to become the first Asian woman to top the world rankings.

Elsewhere she ponders her own identity.

"For so long I've tied winning to my worth as a person," Osaka admits.

"To anyone who would know me, they know me for being a tennis player. So what am I if I'm not a good tennis player?"

The third and final episode of the series attempts to answer Osaka's question. Firstly Osaka announces her intention to represent her country of birth, Japan, over her home since she was three, the US.

Then Osaka attends a Black Lives Matter protest in Minnesota following the death of George Floyd and decides to wear face masks bearing the names of seven victims of racial prejudice during her championship-winning run at the 2020 US Open.

Osaka is one of the more interesting and complicated global athletes.

Amid the ever-expanding genre of sports documentaries, Naomi Osaka feels like one of the most authentic additions. All of Osaka's frailties are exposed, as well as her heart.

NAOMI OSAKA

Streaming on Netflix