Naomi Osaka announces hiatus after U.S. Open defeat

Reuters | 9/9/2021, 6 p.m.
Retired athletes voiced their support for four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka last Saturday after she said she would take ...
Naomi Osaka returns a shot to Leylah Fernandez of canada during the third round of the U.S. Open tennis championships last Friday in New York. Photo by John Minchillo/Associated Press

NEW YORK - Retired athletes voiced their support for four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka last Saturday after she said she would take a break from tennis, having lost her enthusiasm for competition.

The world’s No. 3 ranked player suffered a stunning defeat in the third round of the U.S. Open on Sept. 3 before tearfully telling reporters she planned to take an indefinite break from the sport.

“I feel like for me recently, like, when I win, I don’t feel happy. I feel more like a relief,” said Osaka, months after publicly disclosing that she had suffered from depression.

“Take all the time you need to recover, rest, and heal, @naomiosaka,” 12-time Grand Slam singles champion Billie Jean King wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “Sending you love and support.”

Retired American tennis player James Blake applauded her decision. “Please do what is best for you @naomiosaka,” he said on social media. “We want to see your extraordinary tennis again, but more importantly, we want to see you happy.”

Osaka, 23, has ushered in a new conversation around mental health in professional sports after she dropped out of the French Open amid a public row over mandatory press conferences at the Grand Slam, saying they took too great a toll on her mental wellbeing.

The two-time champion’s return to Flushing Meadows did not go to plan, but ended in tears Friday with her de- feat to Canadian Leylah Fernandez 5-7 7-6(2) 6-4. Osaka wordlessly left the court after uncharacteristically losing her cool in the second set tiebreak.

She whacked her racquet and then flung it onto the court twice in frustration as Fernandez scored five straight points in the tiebreak, in a series of superb play.

Osaka did not receive a warning or a code violation and left the court between sets, later telling reporters she struggled to contain her emotions.

“I’m really sorry about that,” she told reporters later, announcing her intention to take a break from the sport. “I was telling myself to be calm, but I feel like maybe there was a boiling point.

“I feel like I’m kind of at this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do. Honestly, I don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match,” she said, breaking down in tears at a post-match press conference and pulling the brim of her visor over her eyes.

“I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while.”

Osaka’s influence extends far beyond the court, as she brought the Black Lives Matter protest to tennis’ international platform a year ago, becoming a leading figure for athlete advocacy in the process.

“Good decision. Young, trying to figure out life, how to win consistently, and as a huge celebrity athlete is hard! Trying to also be a change maker too. Exponentially harder!” four-time Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter Michael Johnson wrote on Twitter.

“If there was ever a need for an athlete to step away, this is it.”