The Inner Game
New York magazine|July 19 - August 1, 2021
A study of a champion still struggling to feel like one.
JEN CHANEY

THE SOUND OF A TENNIS BALL hitting a racquet or bouncing off a court’s surface over and over, forehand after forehand, is as fundamental to Naomi Osaka as her own heartbeat. In Naomi Osaka, the Netflix docuseries about perhaps the most successful tennis champion of her generation, director Garrett Bradley amplifies that metronomic rhythm. In scenes when the 23-year-old is playing the game and some when she isn’t, the sound is as relentless, urgent, and inescapable as the athlete’s high standards for herself. It is also reflective of Bradley’s immersive and intimate approach—one that extends beyond attempting to explain who Osaka is in order to make the audience feel how it feels to be her.

Naomi Osaka is divided into three episodes—“Rise,” “Champion Mentality,” and “New Blueprint”—that reflect the arc of Osaka’s career without including some of the more recent events in that timeline, specifically her withdrawal in May from the French Open. Before the start of that tournament, she announced on Instagram that she would not participate in post-match press conferences for mental-health reasons, noting that the process of answering questions, especially after a loss, often feels like “kicking a person while they are down.” After her first-round win, French Open officials fined her $15,000 for skipping the press conference and threatened to default her from both that competition and future Grand Slams—so Osaka withdrew from the tournament the next day. She issued a statement that she was trying to exercise self-care after suffering bouts of depression following the 2018 U.S. Open and experiencing anxiety during Q&As. The next month, she withdrew from Wimbledon to (according to her agent) take “some personal time with friends and family.”

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