Naomi Osaka quickly became known worldwide when she defeated Serena Williams in the 2018 U.S. Open Women’s Single final, winning her first Grand Slam at just 20 years old and being the first Japanese player to do so.

But in the years since the life-changing victory, Osaka has re-defined her path as an athlete, most recently speaking out about mental health and her efforts to prioritize her own.

“We live in a world where people are so quick to speak and to comment,” the 23-year-old told Women’s Health for the September 2021 cover. “Silence is almost uncomfortable.”

Osaka learned this the hard way when she made the tough decision to withdraw from the French Open after announcing that she didn’t want to participate in obligatory press events. Although controversial, the statement she made as a young professional athlete was one that was praised by countless others in the industry, as well as by fans.

“I hope I was able to help some people and for them to see that even athletes are still humans like the rest of us,” she said. “And we all are dealing with something in our lives.”

In speaking up, the athlete also shared that she had struggled with both depression and anxiety in the past. She told Women’s Health that her pre-game ritual of walking onto the tennis court in headphones is something that she’s done to help “dull my social anxiety.” When it comes to her presence in front of the press, she also strives to show up as authentically as she can.

“Growing up being [labeled] ‘the quiet one’ puts you in a box and, even worse, makes you stand out when all you want is to blend in. But now I try to embrace and own it,” she says of her reputation of being rather reserved in comparison to her powerhouse ability displayed on the court. “I never wanted media training because I didn’t want to change my personality to offer a canned response that didn’t feel like me. Yes, some people may find my personality different, just as they do my mixed-race background, but I find it to be the thing that makes me uniquely myself.”

Osaka is now ready to show off more of what makes her unique as she taps into the worlds of fashion and skincare as she collaborates with brands like Nike and Louis Vuitton and prepares to launch Kinlò skin.

“Now more than ever I see that you can be more than just one thing,” she said. “More than just someone who plays tennis.”

Source: Kerry Justich