“I am really sorry that I am not able to compete today…It’s an honor to be able to play at the Toray Pan Pacific Open…I wish I could have stepped on court…but my body won’t let me,” Naomi Osaka said sadly.
She’d played the first round but bagged out of the second with Beatriz Haddad Maia. This was in late September. Osaka hasn’t played any other tournaments and is now dealing with a plunging stock, FTX she’s had hopes of being its major representative which now looks like the company is bankrupt.
Naomi Osaka’s major confrontation with her mental concerns came to the surface in May during the 2021 French Open when she professed that speaking to the press caused her tremendous anxieties and she wouldn’t be able to do it anymore.
She withdrew from Roland Garros, and was fined $15,000. The entire four grand slam tournament corporations talked and allowed the young Japanese to take a break to re-group and mentally clear her mind. The former world no. 2 spaced herself from playing professional tennis and decided to test her competitive spirit four months later in September on her physical and emotional aspect of returning to competition.
Osaka’s performance wasn’t expert enough and couldn’t bring forth a win. The Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic was the tournament. She’d win the opening round with Qinwen Zheng but her next opponent, Coco Gauff had more enriched strategies and defeated Naomi in straight sets.
Osaka was also struggling with an Achilles injury but despite it all continued entering events. She tried but the results weren’t positive and losses had occurred. The disruptive 2021 season ended, but the new one in 2022 brought a lot of the same discontinued plays as the previous year.
It was a recent abdominal injury that hampered her success at the Australian Open stopping her from defending her title. Many had doubts of her performances after that but fans and the tennis community couldn’t help be excited seeing her play again.
Naomi could only go as far as the third round of the Melbourne event before bowing to Amanda Anisimova in three sets. The 24-year-old’s entrance into the Miami Open surprisingly showed that the winning Naomi Osaka was getting her groove back at record speed.
She landed into the final the first in over a year. It was her wins over Angelique Kerber, Danielle Collins and Belinda Bencic to name a few that gave proof she was still a viable player in the WTA. She met up with Poland’s Iga Swiatek, the top ranked player in the world.
They’d only met up twice and while Osaka’s ranking had plunged into the mid 40’s, she played with vigor and excitement of which she had before retiring at the 2021 French Open. Swiatek’s consistent play gave her a huge edge over the once dominant Japanese.
The Pole would win in straight sets 6-4, 6-0, with Naomi’s fizzling out in the last set. “I’m confident in myself as a player,” she smiled gingerly saying, even though she could n’t get the win over Swiatek.
The rest of the tournaments Osaka would only get through to the second round at best. Fans were quite disappointed to not see her go deep as she did in Miami and wondered what could have derailed her sharpened skills. The crowds at the Japan Open were indeed disappointed when their defending champ wasn’t able to defend her title this year.
The COVID situation had extended the tournament by two years, since she won it in 2019. This season everyone looked forward to Naomi on improving but it didn’t seem to come. She missed the grass court season and having to cope with nagging prolonged injuries along with trying to manage her anxietites proved a bit to much for the former grand slam champion.
She had apologized to the Japan Open fans saying “Thank you for all your support this week and I will see you next year.” Many weren’t encouraged to think Osaka could put in the work and show up in 2023 as a strong WTA player again.
As for the first slam of the season–The Australian Open in 2023, Naomi Osaka may just enter the tournament if be as a wild card to see how her progress physically and mentally has held. It’s obvious though that less time on the court and touring, means an extended time she will be ready to put in the work to be a strong contender.
Will she return for a new season? Can she bring her best game and start back winning matches? It’s for sure that only time will tell now.
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