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January 22nd, 2022

naomi osaka miniseries spotlight pageNaomi Osaka prepares to serve in this scene from Garrett Bradley’s new Netflix miniseries “Naomi Osaka.” Courtesy photoELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

Naomi Osaka has been gaining a name for herself thanks to her strong tennis game and recently, she let fans more inside her life with a short docuseries on Netflix. The 3-episode series follows Osaka throughout the course of two years and starts with her defeat of Serena Williams at the 2018 U.S. Open, when Osaka was only 20 years old. The series also follows some of Osaka’s tennis training, a few of her bigger matches, and briefly mentions how she got interested in tennis. 

The first episode, “Rise,” interweaves clips of Osaka’s matches with excerpts of commentators’ comments on Osaka’s talent while also subtly exploring the relationship between athletes and sports media. The second episode, “Champion Mentality” explores Osaka’s life during the off-season as she finds ways to express herself beyond tennis and her bereavement at the loss of one of her idols, Kobe Bryant. The final episode, “New Blueprint” shows Osaka overcoming other personal obstacles and realizing why current precedent for being a celebrity and athlete won’t work for her anymore, culminating in her finding more of her voice. 

The first thing I liked about the series was how instead of being a full overall biopic, it’s a snapshot that focuses on her more recent work. And under series director Garrett Bradley, even though the series ends up being more of a snapshot into Naomi’s life, there’s still a lot to learn about her – her shyness, her bouts of self-doubt about her tennis skills, her love for her family (especially her sister, Mari) and especially in the final episode, her wanting to express her voice more. It’s a rather soft evolution seeing Naomi start out being enormously shy to beginning to come out of her shell and speak her mind more, but the change is definitely there. And with this change, I can’t wait to hear more of what she has to say in the future. 

I definitely liked the moments in the series where Naomi is hanging out with Mari, and those moments reminded me so much of me spending time with my own siblings when I was younger. Those captured moments are very sweet and sincere, and I definitely enjoyed seeing the sisterly bond between them. My favorite moment between the two is when Mari gives Naomi a new painting to hang up in her new home, and Naomi ultimately ends up putting the painting on a pedestal that originally holds one of her Grand Slam trophies, which ultimately gets put in another room. It’s a very sweet moment and I couldn’t help but let out a loud “AWWWW” watching it. 

The series also tackles how such quick fame can have an effect on people, especially someone as young as Naomi, who’s currently only 23. She mentions a few times throughout the episodes how she almost feels under a microscope not only on the court but also with her life off the court. While it’s a more subtle message from the series, it goes to show how even though someone might be famous, they’re still human beings and are entitled to actual thoughts and feelings. There’s also the message there of how such quick fame can really mess with someone’s head, and how that extra pressure can cause massive burnout down the line. My absolute favorite moment relating to this was what happened after a match against then-15-year-old Coco Gauff – Naomi mentioned in the post-match interview how she offered encouragement to Gauff and some other comfort since Gauff was still quite young at that point. It was a very strong moment of two young ladies sharing a huge stage and at that point, basically being the same person. 

I also really liked how the series is rather raw and honest and shows Naomi at her highs and lows. Her joy and shock after her 2018 defeat of Williams is shown as well as her dejection after some big losses of her own and the loss of Bryant. The scene where she talks about a particularly memorable conversation she had with Bryant while holding back tears is absolutely heartbreaking to watch, and the following scenes showing her melancholy over the incident are hard to watch. Her coach, Wim Fissette, says it best about those matches – while Naomi’s body was present at those matches, her mind was clearly elsewhere. And what I found refreshing about those parts is how Naomi doesn’t make excuses or anything for her performance during those particular matches, she simply acknowledges she wasn’t in the right headspace and she knows she needs to work on that aspect of her game. 

Overall, I very much enjoyed my viewing of Garrett Bradley’s “Naomi Osaka” docuseries on Netflix and I would give it an “A” grade. The series, while being more of a snapshot, still gives a lot of insight into Naomi’s life and also gets real during a few parts about the pressures of being a famous athlete. I also liked how the series showed Naomi during happy and sad moments and gave a well-rounded picture of her as a person. If you’re a fan of Naomi Osana or docuseries in general, this is a good one to queue up. 

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