Naomi Osaka opens up about mental health and motherhood at US Open


Naomi Osaka made her first appearance at the US Open since losing in the first round last year. But she was not there to play tennis. She was there to talk about mental health and how it affects athletes.

The four-time Grand Slam champion joined a panel discussion on Wednesday with Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline. The event was part of the USTA’s initiative to raise awareness and provide resources for mental health in sports.

Naomi Osaka opens up about mental health and motherhood at US Open
Naomi Osaka opens up about mental health and motherhood at US Open

Osaka, who recently gave birth to a daughter named Shai with her boyfriend rapper Cordae, said she plans to return to tennis in 2024 for the Australian Open, a tournament she has won twice before. She said her break from the sport “really fueled a fire in me” and made her appreciate the game more.

“I’ve been playing tennis since I was 3,” Osaka said. “I don’t think I can predict what I’ll do — I never am able to do that — but it definitely made me appreciate a lot of things that I took for granted.”

Osaka revealed her struggles with depression and anxiety in 2021

Osaka became a vocal advocate for mental health after she withdrew from the French Open in 2021 following a controversy over her decision to skip mandatory press conferences. She later revealed that she had “suffered long bouts of depression” since winning her first major title at the US Open in 2018.

She also took time off from tennis to focus on her well-being and protect her mental health. She skipped Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics, where she was expected to be one of the main attractions as a home favorite.

She returned to action at the US Open last year, but lost in the opening round to Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez in a stunning upset. She then announced that she would take another hiatus from the sport.

“I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match,” Osaka said at the time. “I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while.”

Osaka shared her experiences with loneliness and parenting

During the panel discussion, Osaka opened up about how she felt lonely during her pregnancy and how becoming a mother changed her perspective on life.

“I feel like being pregnant was one of the loneliest times of my life,” Osaka said. “I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it. I felt like I was going through it by myself.”

She said she learned a lot from talking to other mothers and getting support from them. She also said she loves her daughter a lot and wants to be a good role model for her.

“I want her to grow up knowing that she can do anything she wants,” Osaka said. “I want her to be proud of me.”

Osaka learned from Phelps and others about coping with mental health challenges

Osaka said she was grateful for the opportunity to participate in the panel discussion and learn from Phelps and others who have faced similar mental health challenges in their careers.

Phelps, who has won 28 Olympic medals, including 23 golds, shared his own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. He said he reached a “breaking point” in 2014, when he was arrested for driving under the influence and checked himself into rehab.

He said he learned to open up about his feelings and seek help from others. He also said he found purpose in helping others through his foundation and advocacy work.

“I think it’s important for us to be able to share our stories and be vulnerable,” Phelps said. “It’s OK to not be OK.”

Murthy, who is the top doctor in the US, praised Osaka and Phelps for their courage and leadership in speaking out about mental health. He said they are helping to break the stigma and inspire others to seek help.

He also emphasized the importance of having a “buddy system” of people who can check on each other and offer support. He said he has his own buddy system with his wife and friends.

“We all need people who can see us for who we are, who can accept us unconditionally, who can be there for us when we’re struggling,” Murthy said.

Hainline, who is also the chairman of the USTA’s board, said he was impressed by the honesty and humility of Osaka and Phelps. He said he hopes their example will encourage more athletes and coaches to prioritize mental health and wellness.

He also said the USTA is committed to providing more resources and education for mental health in tennis and beyond.

“We want to make sure that everyone who plays this sport, who loves this sport, who coaches this sport, who officiates this sport, has the tools they need to be healthy and happy,” Hainline said.


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