Naomi Osaka continues to struggle to find her best form on the tennis court. Her admission that she might not go to Wimbledon this year is rubbing critics the wrong way. Osaka revealed that she is considering not going to Wimbledon if the ATP and WTA forge ahead with threats to remove ranking points from the tournament for its ban on Russian and Belarusian players. In response, Piers Morgan called her a “sulky brat” – the latest of many diatribes he has levelled against the Japanese star.
Osaka undoubtedly needs to play more tennis if she wants to go down as one of the greatest players of all time, but that choice should be hers alone. If sports fans each choose their own work-life balance, then why should we expect athletes to step on the court in moments when they are not contractually obliged to do so and quite frankly, simply do not feel up for it?
Osaka will never be the next Serena Williams if she does not play as much tennis as her idol but she has already earned a fortune out of tennis, which is an achievement in itself. She has also had a career most could only dream of. Most people do not go to work with any serious intention of being the best or hardest-working professionals in their fields. Rather, they go with the intention to earn a living for themselves and their families. Why, then, do we demand more of athletes who do not know our names than we do of ourselves in our own jobs?
Morgan allowed his career to stagnate for a year simply because he was too proud to put aside his one-way feud (read: obsession) with Meghan Markle and decided he would rather leave ITV than apologise for his bizarre campaign against her. He continues to retreat into increasing irrelevance when he simply could have said sorry for offending viewers by questioning Markle’s testimony of mental health struggles. If there is anyone who should know that most of us go through phases where we feel some things are more important than work, it should be him.
Those among us who can earn millions and achieve our dreams, as Osaka did by winning four grand slam titles while still remaining as driven as ever do exist, but are a minority. Mario Balotelli, the Italian footballer who has been accused of failing to reach his full potential will never become the next Ronaldo. Likewise, Naomi Osaka may never be the next Serena Williams, but even in the worst-case scenario, Osaka and Balotelli will finish their careers with titles and millions in earnings.
Fans of Osaka naturally want to see her at her best, but we are most likely to witness that if we do not allow bloodthirsty professional outrage-seekers like Morgan to dictate our expectations of her. Osaka plays the game of tennis on her own terms, and for that, we simply cannot fault her.