Imagine you’re 20 years old again. You’re competing at peak levels of tennis and for the first time in your rapidly-accelerating career you are on center court at the U.S. Open finals. Over the next two hours you’ll be dueling with an all-time great, Serena Williams, who’s intimating and still has a lot to prove. The partisan New York crowd makes it resoundingly clear they want to celebrate her 24th Grand Slam win. You’re just another underdog newcomer likely to be shut out in straight sets.
To the stadium’s surprise, you take the first set. The second set comes to an abrupt halt the first time Serena approaches the umpire’s chair, then every time they exchange words through the duration of the match. You can’t hear them over the din of the crowd. Your job: stay focused. Despite the intense emotion on the court and in the stands, stay calm. Don’t let repeated eruptions throw your game.
Naomi Osaka did. It would have been understandable – possibly expected under the circumstances – for her to lose her mental edge as events unfolded between Serena and Carlos Ramos, the umpire. But that’s not how it went down. Naomi prevailed. As young as she is, she was every bit the professional. One of the biggest takeaways should be how Naomi rose to meet the challenge of playing in this particular final as the rhythm of the match was radically upended.
Naomi’s mental fortitude was inspired. Her presence of mind in post-match interviews proved equally impressive. It makes me wonder how many times in the course of a day people (myself included) are derailed by events of far less consequence.
What Naomi taught us
I predict we’ll see a lot of Naomi Osaka on the winner’s stage in years to come. While we wait, take a page out of her playbook. Cultivate mental fortitude. Stop falling prey to distractions. Keep your eyes on the prize.