Will the tennis world treat Naomi Osaka right this time?

Naomi Osaka is a remarkable individual. She is a woman, a mom, and a highly skilled tennis player. She is also Black and Asian, representing multiple identities that make her unique. However, being more than what simple-minded people can comprehend often leads to mistreatment and misunderstanding. Unfortunately, the tennis world has not always been kind to Osaka, and it is uncertain whether the sport will learn from its mistakes.

Osaka recently won her first competitive match since the fall of 2022 at the Brisbane International. Her absence from the game was due to her transition into motherhood, which she described as a transformative experience. She expressed how her daughter, Shai, helped her mature rapidly and become more aware of and appreciative towards others. On the court, motherhood has made her stronger and more focused on the present moment.

Since bursting onto the scene, Osaka has faced unnecessary hostility from the tennis community. Despite her undeniable talent, she has been heckled and subjected to disparaging remarks. Tennis, a sport that prides itself on sophistication and decorum, has failed to show her the respect she deserves.

Even some of the sport’s legends have taken aim at Osaka. Novak Djokovic criticized her decision to pay a fine rather than participate in press conferences after matches. Certain media members have also lacked tact when asking her questions, demonstrating a lack of empathy and understanding towards her experiences.

Osaka’s introduction to the tennis world was met with boos when she defeated Serena Williams in the 2018 U.S. Open. Williams, in a display of sportsmanship, called for the crowd to acknowledge Osaka’s achievement and make it a memorable moment. The incident highlighted the unfair treatment Osaka has faced throughout her career.

It is no surprise that Osaka took a break from the game in 2021 to prioritize her mental health. She took her time with her pregnancy and returning to tennis as a mother, demonstrating the importance of self-care and well-being.

As Osaka embarks on her journey back to being a full-time player, she will now be joined by Coco Gauff, who has become another prominent Black woman in tennis. Gauff’s staggering earnings of $22.7 million in 2023 established her as the highest-paid female athlete. This dynamic duo represents a powerful force in the sport, challenging traditional norms and breaking barriers.

Osaka’s run in Australia ended with a loss in the second round to Karolina Pliskova. Despite the defeat, she viewed the tournament as a personal victory, having doubted her ability to compete just weeks prior. She acknowledged the sacrifices she made as a mother and expressed a desire for those sacrifices to be worthwhile.

Motherhood has undoubtedly changed Naomi Osaka, but the question remains whether tennis has changed enough to stop the hate and mistreatment she has faced. It is crucial for the sport to recognize her worth and value her contributions. Osaka’s success and resilience should serve as a lesson to the tennis community, urging them to embrace diversity and inclusion. Only then can tennis truly learn from its mistakes and create a more welcoming environment for players like Naomi Osaka.

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