As she gears up for her return to the Australian Open, a tournament she has triumphed in twice, Naomi Osaka has pondered on how becoming a mother has shifted her outlook on both tennis and life.
The athlete who has won three major tennis events revealed her pregnancy prior to the 2017 Australian Open and temporarily left the sport. She welcomed her daughter, Shai, in July and recently resumed competing at the Brisbane International tournament.
On Wednesday, Osaka expressed the need for paid parental leave to be implemented in the US, the country she was raised in, during an interview with Glamour.
“I was taken aback when I learned about the statistics,” Osaka remarked about the United States, which is one of the rare nations without a mandated policy for paid parental leave. “Fortunately, I am not in a hurry to return to work, but I truly needed that time to reflect on everything that has occurred and, of course, bond with my child.”
Twenty-five percent of American women resume working within 14 days of delivering a baby, while the majority of Americans (73%) do not receive any compensation for taking time off after becoming parents, according to statistics. Professional tennis player Osaka expressed her disappointment with this lack of options, stating, “It is disheartening to see that a large number of women are not given the opportunity to make their own decisions and are forced to return to work immediately.”
Osaka has openly shared her challenges with the demands of being a professional athlete, but she stated that becoming a mother has positively impacted her mental well-being.
“I feel empowered,” she states. “Childbirth is often discussed, but it’s a unique experience. I now feel capable of anything and impervious to discomfort, and my pain threshold has greatly improved. Other people’s opinions no longer hold much weight for me.”
In 2019 and 2021, the 26-year-old became champion of the Australian Open and believes that embracing her role as a mother has positively impacted her performance in the tournament.
When I step onto the court, being a mother seems distant. I have been playing tennis since I was three, so it’s second nature to me. However, I do sometimes fret about my abilities as a mother. But in the end, I remember that Shai is my daughter. There is nothing I can or want to do that will alter that fact. My main focus is being a positive role model for her and making her proud of me.