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The Wiring of a Champ

I watched the Naomi Osaka documentary on Netflix and recommend it.

We know about her meteoric rise and the four grand slams. Her discipline, strength and dedication have brought amazing accolades at a young age. Her parents have traversed diverse cultures, multiple geographies and familial strife to support her. But these aren't the reasons to watch the documentary. These are the necessary ingredients for shaping Osaka into a world-class champ.

Watch it for her mental health journey.

This shy prodigy has struggled with global pressure, the hopes of her team, the dreams of her father, the sacrifices of her mother, doubts about her abilities, and determination to win every tournament. Getting through a few rounds is never enough for her. Winning the whole tournament is the only thing that matters.

Her journey is lonely and thrilling, full of highs and lows. The rigor with which she approaches her training is a surprise to us lay people but sports documentaries remind us that elite athletes are not mere mortals.

Her wistfulness bordering on sadness, her transparency, and her evolving realization of how to travel the distance between global adulation and self-doubt will catch your attention. In episode two when she asks if not tennis what else and in episode three when she wonders whether her peers are in college, you get whiplash from the extent of her solitary existence. What we take for granted is not even in the realm of possibility for her. No college experience and not a day when she can watch Netflix for several hours like yours truly can.

This scene of Osaka lying down on the court after winning the 2020 US Open seems to encapsulate her gratitude for being part of the sport while at the same time wishing to transport to a more peaceful place through the open roof of Arthur Ashe stadium.

Coco, Serena, Rafa, Roger and Novak make it look easy. Naomi tells us it isn’t. And through it all, she is beset with worries and doubts ranging from the mundane (noises in her new home) to the ideal (support for BLM) and to the aspirational (how to be a role model for bi-racial kids). She can condition the body to be the best in the tennis world, but how does she wire the mind in which self-doubt ricochets like a tennis ball! Her natural instincts are not aligned with the adulation, criticism, and high expectations. This disconnect can quickly unravel her mind and then her game.

The documentary is quite a fascinating journey into the interplay of psychological well-being and physical results. I enjoyed watching it. Hope you will too.

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