Naomi Osaka has made a candid admission about her struggles in 2021, with the Japanese tennis star admitting she was “ungrateful” for the amazing support she’d been given from fans around the world.
The four-time major champion this week broke down in tears during a press conference after an “aggressive” line of questioning from a reporter in Cincinnati.
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It was just the latest chapter in a particularly challenging year for the 23-year-old, who announced a media blackout before withdrawing from the French Open in June.
The World No.2 then took time away from the sport to work on her mental health, before returning for the Olympics where she suffered a disappointing early exit.
The four-time grand slam champ has had a strained relationship with journalists, saying her mental health is adversely impacted by certain lines of questioning.
Osaka spoke with reporters ahead of this week’s Western & Southern Open, where she has pledged any and all of her winnings from the tournament to Haiti earthquake relief.
However, her return to the press conference arena ended in tears after a reporter – slammed by her agent for being a “bully” – probed a line of questioning about why she disliked dealing with the media.
Speaking after her latest win at the Cincinnati Masters – a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 comeback victory over Coco Gauff in the third round – Osaka admitted that she had taken her success for granted in a candid assessment of her own struggles.
“I wonder what affected me so much and made me not want to do media. (Maybe) I was scared of bad headlines (if she lost),” she said.
“I should feel like I’m winning (in life), having people come to watch me is an accomplishment.
“But that started not being an accomplishment for me – I was ungrateful.”
Osaka said coping with Covid-19 might also have been a factor.
“Some of the stress may have come from living in Covid (tennis) bubbles and not seeing (outside) people,” she said.
The shy Japanese second seed’s anxiety over attending obligatory post-match media conferences was nowhere in evidence as she explained possible reasons for her emotional crisis, which erupted three months ago when she withdrew after playing one match at Roland Garros.
She said that speaking with reporters was damaging her mental health.
Naomi Osaka reflects on ‘crazy’ year
“With everything going on in Haiti (her father’s homeland) and Afghanistan, things are really crazy,” the four-time Grand Slam winner added.
“It’s crazy for me to be in the US hitting a tennis ball and people come and watch me play.”
Osaka, who grew up in New York, sounded as if she is trying to come to grips with the mental issues that had been bothering her recently, ones that sent her away from the game from Paris until the Tokyo Olympics last month.
This is her first event since she went out in the third round at the Games.
Joining Osaka in the next round at the Cincinnati tournament was World No.1 Ash Barty, who bounced back from a Tokyo Olympic first-round loss to start her pre-US Open campaign with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) win over Britain’s Heather Watson.
Barty will next face two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka.
“I feel good. I feel like I’m ready to play,” Barty said.
“I’m as close to 100% as I’m ever going to get.
“I feel comfortable and ready and excited to be playing here in Cincinnati and knowing that we’re moving on to New York, one of the best tournaments and one of the best atmospheres in the world, that brings excitement.”
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