Naomi Osaka won on Thursday, first round, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 against Sloane Stephens and of course she was happy about that, she is still a tennis professional. But she’s a little different now, at the Masters tournament in Indian Wells: “She was walking around the facility and someone said, ‘I hope you’re having fun,'” she said. “Usually it’s always something like, ‘I hope you win, I have tickets to the final.’ I know the difference is not that big, but it means a lot to me.”
Japan’s Naomi Osaka, 24, is now about more than just the next game, the next tournament. She has become the poster child for the mental health debate in professional sports because she is unusually open about how she is doing. In Indian Wells, she now provides interesting insights again: “I’m very at peace with myself right now; it’s a very nice feeling.”
Little flashback: Withdrawal from French Open 2021 because he didn’t want to attend mandatory press conferences out of concern for his mental health. A few months later, tears welled up in Cincinnati in response to a reporter’s provocative question about fame and fortune. Endless pressure at the Tokyo Games, where she was allowed to light the Olympic flame, was to win gold, and she was eliminated early. Then, after leaving the US Open in September 2021: “I’m at a point in my life where I have to figure out what I want to do and I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next game.”
For Osaka, the road back is still long
Boxer Vitali Klitschko once said that he only sees the closest mountains from the summit. Patrick Mouratoglu, coach of Serena Williams, explained that the great strength of the 24-time Grand Slam winner is her permanent discontent and her longing for more of her. Solo: What does this constant greed do to a person, no matter how many millions she has already earned? That is the question asked by Naomi Osaka, tennis icon, former world number one, four-time Grand Slam winner. She hasn’t played many tournaments in the last 12 months, not since the US Open, just one pre-season tournament in Melbourne (she didn’t advance to the semi-finals) and the Australian Open (she was eliminated in the third round). She dropped to 78th in the world rankings.
“I’m a perfectionist,” says Osaka, “so there were always doubts: will I ever be able to play so well that I’m satisfied with myself?” Losses are always food for these doubts, has it possibly gotten worse? But she acknowledged: “The players I have to play against are also improving!” Therefore, a loss is not proof that she herself has gotten worse: “We are all constantly developing; there are many things in which I have recently improved a lot.”
The way back is still long. The first serve, usually a dangerous weapon from Osaka, was inconsistent against Sloane Stephens. Only half of all attempts ended on the field. The forehand: shaky. It was an unpredictable game because of the desert wind; in the last twelve months, Osaka would probably have gotten desperate. Now she stayed calm, unbothered by the gusts that constantly blew sand into the stadium. She was trying to figure out how to win this game despite the difficulties, and it was obvious that she was really enjoying it.
Anyone who has watched Osaka in recent years will have noticed that she has always given herself a goal, sometimes going beyond sporting success, such as when she won the US Open in 2020, when she wore a mask with the name of a victim of appeared. systematic racism. Now, she says, she is less concerned with climbing peaks and more interested in having fun climbing. That is her goal now. She still wants to have fun in Indian Wells, her next opponent on Saturday: Russia’s Viktoria Kudermatowa.