Naomi Osaka, Japanese tennis star and former number 1 has incited a new conversation in sport. Winning four Grand Slams at a young age, the world of tennis awaited for the growth of a new female superstar. Unfortunately this has not been the case.

Winning her first title at the 2018 US open aged only 20 where she defeated the iconic Serena Williams in front of a boisterous crowd that was firmly behind her opponent, Osaka claimed this event as the beginning of the sudden weight of expectation placed on her shoulders. This added pressure, Osaka said, marked the start of her battle with anxiety and depression.  Nevertheless it was only until 2021 that she went public about this, stating she would not be holding press conferences following matches. Going on to reveal how distressing it was to face the media following her defeats in tournaments she said, “None of those conversations are enjoyable, but especially not on the heels of a loss. It’s like pouring salt into a wound.” After receiving lots of backlash for wanting to prioritise her mental health, she then pulled out of the French Open with her critics quick to portray Osaka as shrinking one of her fundamental duties: communicating with the public. In tennis especially, press conferences are a huge part of Grand Slams as players are often not available during the rest of the year. However, having lived through Covid 19 you would have thought the authorities would have understood and supported her decision. Yet the four Grand Slam events immediately reacted by issuing her a fine of $15,000 and even threatened her with harsher penalties if she would not fulfil her media obligations.

Her battle with mental health has in turn led to frequent withdrawal from tournaments with her most recent Grand Slam win occurring in 2021 at the US Open. In reality, this episode laid bare some of the deeper tensions in big-money athletics. Who controls a sport - the leagues that organise the competition or the athletes who actually play? Hence, the issues raised by Osaka aren’t going away with it becoming common practice for athletes to tell their own stories instead of letting the media do it for them.

Now onto the symbolic impact this event has had on me. Playing sport should be an outlet for you and if you find yourself feeling stressed and putting pressure on yourself to perform, then you’re not doing it right. I’ve found that when you think less about what you’re doing and focus on the element of joy in sport, you are able to find the full expression of your abilities and hence achieve your desired outcome.