Naomi Osaka and Other Stars Are Embracing Motherhood at the BNP Paribas Open

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Tennis is a demanding sport, but for women in particular, balancing the pressures of motherhood can take it to a whole new level of pressure. That reality – as well as the joys of motherhood – has been on full display at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, CA, this week.

Take Naomi Osaka, who is one of seven moms represented in the main draw of the tournament. This is the four-time Grand Slam champion’s fifth tournament since giving birth to her daughter, Shai, in July 2023.

“I was really inspired by the players I watched when I was pregnant, and I wanted to come back and I know I have to play well,” she told the crowd after winning her first match on March 7.

“I go immediately into mom mode, and I wouldn’t want to be in any other mode.”

Osaka, who was the BNP Paribas champion in 2018, brought her daughter to this week’s tournament. When asked how she manages it all, Osaka shared, “I go immediately into mom mode, and I wouldn’t want to be in any other mode.”

The BNP Paribas Open is the second-largest tennis tournament in the Americas, behind the US Open, and it’s a beloved tennis experience for players and fans alike. And this year, just as Osaka puts on display, mothers are embracing all of their roles: juggling demanding workouts and practices with their children’s feeding and sleep schedules. It’s clear through interviews that motherhood seems to have given these women a sense of purpose beyond remaining at the top of their game.

Empowering moms has been a focus of the Women’s Tennis Association, too: in 2018, the organization stepped up its efforts to support moms by protecting the rankings and seedings of players who give birth or adopt. The efforts were championed by former United States Tennis Association president Katrina Adams, who has been a strong voice in the fight for gender equity in sports. The hope is that these provisions will show women tennis players they won’t be penalized for aspiring to motherhood.

Angelique Kerber, a German player who has previously been ranked No. 1 in the world, gave birth to her daughter, Liana, in February 2023. She is also off to a strong start at this week’s BNP tournament. When asked about her biggest inspiration within her sport at a press conference, Kerber responded, “Having my daughter by my side, it’s even more inspiring for me. . . . It’s not tennis anymore . . . it’s her. And having the combination of doing something I love and having her on my side is the most inspiration for me. I’m really proud to be a mom now.”

American player Taylor Townsend also talked about the importance of having her son, AJ, who was born in 2021, at the tournament with her. “It’s awesome. Having him here has made me relax a little bit and gives me an opportunity to disconnect from all of this when I leave the site, and I can turn off and focus on him,” she told PS. “For me to be able to cherish these moments with him being here, and being able to play good tennis, it truly means a lot to me.”

In a sport that puts so much pressure on individual players, these stars are proving that they don’t have to choose between motherhood and their careers. For Townsend, the visibility of being a mom is now also an important part of her role in tennis. Her son turns 3 years old this week – a prime opportunity to reflect on what being a working mother means to her. As she put it: “I hope it makes an impact, honestly. I hope that my actions are showing him the way to go.”

Ralinda Watts is an author, diversity expert, consultant, practitioner, speaker, and proven thought leader who works at the intersection of race, identity, culture, and justice. She has contributed to numerous publications, such as POPSUGAR, CBS Media, Medium, Yahoo Lifestyle, and the Los Angeles Times.

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