Naomi Osaka lifts lid on tennis break after admitting she ‘wasn’t going to play’ in 2022
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Naomi Osaka has opened up on her decision to take an extended break away from the professional tennis tour. The four-time Major champion admitted she would be taking time out and didn’t know when she would return following an upset loss to Leylah Fernandez at the US Open back in September. She was victorious in her return to the tour at the WTA 250 in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Osaka opened up on her mental health struggles last season, announcing she would not be partaking in press conferences during the French Open in spring to protect her wellbeing.
After receiving backlash from the Grand Slam board for her decision, the former world No 1 withdrew from the clay-court Major and from Wimbledon.
Following a shock loss to then world No 74 Leylah Annie Fernandez in the US Open third-round, a tearful Osaka admitted in her post-match press conference that she would be taking a break from playing professional tennis after losing the “happy” feeling associated with competing and winning.
The world No 13 made her return at the WTA 250 in Melbourne on Tuesday, sealing a 6-4 3-6 6-3 victory over Alize Cornet, overcoming some wobbles as she dropped the second set after having a 6-4 3-1 lead.
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After the match, the defending champion at the upcoming Australian Open spoke about her time away from competition.
“I would say what probably got me ready again was just, I guess, talking to people. For me, I tend to internalise everything, and I think that might be just based on how I grew up. I didn’t really have that many friends, so I didn’t really talk to anyone in the first place,” Osaka said of her decision to return to tennis after her break.
“Then during the off-season I just hung out with my friends and talked to my family a lot. I felt like that was a way of decompressing the pressure I had on myself. Then I just slowly started to regain the feeling of love that I had towards the game.
“It’s not like it ever completely went away, but I felt like it got overshadowed by a lot of emotions that I was feeling just by constantly playing year after year since I was like– I started tennis when I was three years old, and I never really took a break.”
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Looking back on her time away from tennis following her return to competition, the four-time Grand Slam champion admitted she didn’t think she was going to play for most of 2022, surprising herself by returning for the start of the season.
Osaka said: “Honestly, it was much shorter than I anticipated. I actually really thought I wasn’t going to play for most of this year.
“I think that I’m actually really –I don’t think ‘proud’ is the right word, but I’m really happy with myself that I love the sport that much because I literally said that I was unsure when I was going to play after the US Open, and I’m here right now, and that’s what I did like two years ago. Honestly, I’m on the same schedule as I was, like this is a normal schedule for me.”
The former world No 1 also opened up on her new goals, looking to take her focus away from the results after what she called an “extreme buildup” of emotions last year.
“I feel like for me, I only really have one major goal this year, and it’s completely unrelated to results and stuff like that,” the Japanese tennis star added.
“For me, I just want to feel like every time I step on the court I’m either – not that I’m either, but I’m having fun. I can walk off the court knowing that even if I lost, I tried as hard as I could.
“Also I have a goal in the pressroom, that I’m never going to cry again, so hopefully that works out in my favour.
“I just feel like for me, I’m the type of person that cared a little bit too much about the results and the ranking and stuff like that. And I just need to find a way to enjoy the game again because that’s the reason why I was playing in the first place.”
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