Now we know why Naomi Osaka is stepping away from tennis for 2023

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Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka
Image: Getty Images

For those who had questions about why Naomi Osaka dropped out of the Australian Open, or if she still cares about being a professional tennis player, you just got your answer.

Osaka tweeted out a statement on Wednesday announcing that she will be stepping away from tennis for the entire 2023 season. In the statement, she did mention that the last few years have been challenging, but she is learning from it and plans to be back for the 2024 Australian Open.

Also, she’s pregnant.

When it was announced on Saturday that she wouldn’t be playing in the first tennis major of the 2023 season, the speculation machine started smoking with all the questions being asked about Osaka. Does she still care about tennis? Is she only interested in fame? What exactly are her mental health struggles? Can she ever get back to her status as the best player in the world?

I could take this moment to lecture against wildly speculating about what is going on in the lives of athletes and other celebrities. The decisions that they make are none of our business unless they find themselves in jail for harming another person.

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But we all know that is not realistic. While Osaka did not owe us an explanation on why she elected not to play, she is famous. She is far more than just a professional tennis player. Osaka is one of the most well-known athletes in the entire world. A true A-list celebrity. Naturally, we are going to be curious about why she isn’t playing.

Anything that she says and does can, and will be used against her in the court of public opinion. She was the highest-paid female athlete in the world in 2022, even though she had a rough season. Osaka lost early in the Australian Open, French Open, and U.S. Open. She didn’t even take the court during Wimbledon due to an Achilles injury.

All of her on-court struggles in 2022 resulted in people letting their imaginations run wild on why she elected not to play in the first major tournament of the season. All of that is coming after a year in which she revealed that she was dealing with some mental health struggles that resulted in her withdrawing from the 2021 French Open. Many questioned how much interest she still has in playing tennis, and some went too far in the harshness of their critiques.

In an ideal world, people would have taken the news of Osaka not playing at face value. They would have expressed their disappointment in another star player dropping out of the first major of the season — Venus Williams and Carlos Alcaraz are also not playing — and left it at that. If they had questions, they could have waited a few days and then received an honest answer from Osaka that quite clearly explains why she will not be playing.

Unfortunately, that is not how sports operate. The more famous an athlete, the more that every single move that athlete makes will be scrutinized, and the hot takes come quickly, The social media accounts — both real and bots — get rolling immediately. Then comes the blog posts, takes on debate shows, and then the columns.

There is no slowing down the speculation machine once it gets rolling. Feed it a star, and a bit of news that answers who, what, and where, but doesn’t provide a how and why, and the machine can run all day. It isn’t powered by electricity, it’s powered by nosiness.

It would have been nice if we let Osaka inform us why she wouldn’t be playing in the first major of the tennis season on her own time. In polite society, that would actually be the correct course of action.

But that’s not natural. So let’s just try to not be mean about it.

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